“Joel, I can’t stress this enough, you need to reconsider this decision before it’s too late.” Richard Collins said.

“Dad, it’s what I want to do. It’s not like I just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to change everything. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and nothing else makes sense to me. It’s the life I want, it’s who I truly want to be.” Joel said.

“To be a cook, you’re giving up on college to become a cook? What kind of life is that Joel? It’s certainly not the kind of life that a Collins is destined for. Jesus Christ, your great grandfather was on the Supreme Court! Your grandfather was on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. And, although I chose a slightly different path, I still went to the same law school they did. I doubt I’d be where I am today with Goldman, if I hadn’t chosen to follow in their footsteps.”

“I get all that Dad, but it’s just not what interests me. I have no desire to be a lawyer, or a judge, or a politician like Uncle Robert. Going to a top notch culinary school isn’t like I’m some kind of university dropout who’s heading off to vocational school. I’ve been to three interviews, and a pretty tough skills evaluation – all of which I passed with flying colors. That means they see something in me that they want to have at their school.” Joel said.

“Sure they do Joel, they see the Collins name and know there’s a cash-cow to milk. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound as harsh as it did, I know you have a lot of terrific qualities son, and maybe that’s why this is such a difficult discussion for me. I don’t want to see you waste those talents making dinner for a room full of strangers.” Richard said, calming his tone.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not a money thing Dad, they’ve got dozens of students who come from wealthy families. The people I’ve already met there seem to have a lot of integrity, and I doubt they would be just winking me in because they’re after another tuition.”

“I’m trying to think of a way to put this that you understand; that you’ll possibly see from my point of view. You’re in a very privileged group of people Joel, and I don’t just mean our family or friends. I mean you’re in the upper half of a percent of American wealthy families. We’re the people who helped build this country into what it is today. As I was getting to earlier, we’re the lawyers, the judges, and the lawmakers that help keep America in good shape. In a way, we’re the backbone of the American system, whether it’s in business, politics or finance. We set the course, we influence the political system, and we discourage the usurpers who want to change that.

Life in this country is pretty damn good Joel, and that didn’t happen by accident. It takes committed men and woman who know what parts they need to play. You’re part of a very special group of people, but it’s also a group who has a set of responsibilities laid out before them Joel. I’m not saying that you’re predestined to one single occupation, you still have plenty of great choices son. They’re simply choices that better fit our station and responsibility. They’re the kinds of professions that contribute to the betterment of this country of ours.”

“Wow, that’s pretty dramatic Dad. Are you about to tell me about the secret society I’m going to be inducted into? Do I get to learn the special handshake so I can gain entry into their lair? I’m sorry Dad, I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but I really doubt that one Collins son heading off to culinary school, instead of an Ivy League law school, isn’t going to radically shift the course of the country. Look, you and Mom have always told me that I should make the choices that make me happy. I’m just following that advice now, so it’s not some rebellion or acting out, it’s me doing what I truly want to.” Joel said.

“Back when your mother and I said that, we were talking about what little league sport you wanted to join, not your life’s work. Joel, you are destined to be an influencer of other men, the kind of man who others look to for their own direction. I’m not disparaging the culinary profession Joel, but it certainly isn’t what we tried to set you up for. You went to the best schools, you had the best mentors and guidance we could get for you, and that wasn’t so you could become a chef. It was because your mother and I both believed that someday you’d become the kind of man that we both knew you could be.” His father told him.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? I mean, I get that it’s not what you and Mom pictured for me, but it’s exactly what I want to do. I’ll just be right up front about it, I have zero desire to be a lawyer, zero desire to be a judge or politician. Let the people who want to be those things pursue those paths, but don’t expect me to. I’m not going to spend the next four years of my life trying to be something that I already know I will hate. What kind of life is that?” Joel said.

“Now who’s being dramatic? You already know you’ll hate it, huh? Where are you hiding that crystal ball, in your back pocket? You can see into the future so well, but yet you can’t see the writing on the wall right in front of you. The gloves come off now Joel, I thought I could encourage you to reconsider, but I see that’s a lost cause now. So, I’ll get to the bottom line then, law school will be fully financed with a stipend to boot – anything else will have to be done on your own. I’m truly sorry that it has to be this way son, but take some small solace in that you’re not the first one to face this choice. My own father had to do the same thing with me, back when I couldn’t find my own ass with both hands. I chose the right path, in hindsight, I really did. I still think you have a good shot at doing the same thing, but you need to stop getting in your own way. Those high ideals about ‘doing what you feel is your true calling’ are just misleading you son. Sometime in this life we all have to do things that, at first, aren’t what we want to do. It’s that illusion of free choice, versus predestination that fools us. We all have parts to play, and this is yours, Joel – if you take it. If you don’t, well… I don’t want to have to imagine that.”

“Are you freaking serious right now? You’re just going to cut me off for having the audacity to pursue my own dreams? For not towing the family-line? And, Mom, she’s cool with this too? Wow, this really blows apart so much of what I was sure you guys had taught me while I was growing up. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be in the ruling class Dad. I don’t want to be ‘special’ or a person others look to for guidance. Not unless it’s in a Michelin Star kitchen! If I have to work a job all day long, I’ll still take my classes at night. Sorry, but your threatening to cut me off isn’t going to stop me from doing what I know is right for me.” Joel said defiantly.

“I’m really sorry it’s come to this Joel, I truly am. I can only hope that someday you will reconsider this conversation, and realize that it wasn’t some evil plot to force you into a life you’d be unhappy in. We don’t always get our way son, and that’s okay – we adjust to what life brings us. I hope you’ll see that one day.”

“Whatever you want to think Dad, it’s cool. Although, I am really curious what it was that you gave up on to ‘do the right thing’ like your dad wanted. What did you want to do with your life, before grandpop talked you out of it? What was it?” Joel asked.

“Not that it changes anything now, but I wanted to go into the sciences, physics specifically. I was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, and Planck’s writings, and I also had a head for numbers. I’m only telling you this because I want to add that I don’t regret my choices Joel, not one bit. The world is full of great physicists, but it’s not many that get the opportunities that I’ve had since those days.” Richard said.

“Really? You really believe that investing other people’s money in the stock market has been more satisfying than possibly discovering something in physics? I just can’t see the comparison Dad, I really can’t.”

“I know you think I just massage people’s money to create more wealth for them, but it’s so much more than that Joel. We make decisions almost weekly that affect different events all over the globe. Choosing to fund, or not to fund, the different projects, governments, or individuals we deal with, changes the global landscape and balances of power. Goddamnit Joel, we’ve stopped coups, funded rebellions, and made or broke world leaders during my time at Goldman. You have no idea what we’re capable of influencing, or directly affecting. It’s not all pretty, but it’s part of what we see as our responsibility to maintaining this way of life we all enjoy. The American dream is a reality because of a system that was put in place over two hundred years ago, and it’s up to real people to keep that dream alive and well.”

“So there it is, finally laid out in its full glory. Keeping the American Dream alive! That’s a pretty lofty purpose Dad, I wish you all the best with it. Me, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. I guess it’s a surprise to you that I don’t actually want to keep everything just as it is. There’s so many underprivileged people in this country, marginalized and cast aside to suffer their fates, as you see them anyway. I don’t want any part of that unless it’s about helping them all get more of what they deserve. Because, I don’t think those people really are predestined to a life of poverty Dad, I think they’re in the situations they’re in because of people like you. To you, the status quo means the rich staying rich, and the poor staying poor. Let the middle class do all the work, and sprinkle them with a few toys to make them feel good, and all is well. Isn’t that the idea Dad? And when anyone, like some ambitious politician, puts his hand into the pockets of the rich, you cut that fucker off, right? No one takes from this ‘upper half of one percent’ if you can help it, I’m positive that’s a fact.

But, before you shit yourself and call me a communist, let me say one more thing; I’m not some naïve social justice warrior Dad, and I’m not a closet Socialist either. I’m just a guy who thinks that the deck has been stacked against the little-guy for far too long. All those other ‘privileged families’ you were talking about… they should take a look back at history, and learn from it. When the rich deprive everyone else for too long, bad things happen to them. Reference the French revolution if you don’t believe me. When the scales tip way too far in your direction, and for too long, people will do something to regain some balance. I know where I want to be, when and if that happens, and it’s not holed-up in my mansion on the hill somewhere.” Joel said.

I’m Listening…

“For years we’ve tried the direct approach, mailings, census’ and surveys, but always with limited overall success. Sure, you can  ask someone what they think about a specific topic, but if they sense you’re connected to whatever, or whomever is asking, they change their answers to please you. It’s some psychological bullshit we humans just do unconsciously, we’re generally not even aware of it. Answers like that are useless to what we’re really after Sam, we need the unvarnished truth in order to keep a finger on the pulse of this country.

You’ve got to make the people want to give up their privacy Sam. I knew it as soon as I saw that Faces website. I mean, damn it, here was a place where people were not only voluntarily registering their basic personal information, but then, of their own volition they were opening up their entire lives. I know most still think it was only open to their little circle of friends, or family, but that’s actually the best part. They really and truly believe that, to this very day despite what the press tells them. It’s like they’re imagining some little privacy dome that surrounds their daily rantings so no one else sees it but the people they’re friends with.
I couldn’t have dreamed up a better idea myself, and I’ve had some damned sneaky ones too. An international website where people post their innermost thoughts and opinions every goddamned day. Sure, we have to do some sorting through their inane photos of every fucking food item they guzzle down at mealtime, but it’s a small price to pay to get a sideline seat to everything else. Every affair, whether real or imagined; every purchase they make, every opinion they have about almost everything, and so much more.

It’s like being the priest in a confessional of the entire global population! Confession is good for the soul, and it’s also damned good for your government too!
And the money to be made, don’t even get me started about that. We can compile custom data reports to satisfy almost any need. Television advertisers chomp at the bit for our latest data. They comb through our reports like they’re panning for gold, and in some ways they really are. Why they can adjust their spending by only buying ad time at the most desirable moments. Haven’t you noticed that no one is buying ad time during the nightly news anymore? That’s because of us, and the data we provide. Some other examples are; you’ll always see reruns during any holiday period, or when there’s some other programming that is a known dominant – such as the basketball finals, or big bowl games. Networks don’t want to ‘waste’ their new product, and the higher ad money they bring in, running against something that will beat them in the ratings.
We can offer them statistical proof of exactly when they will get the most for their money. From the big networks to the upcoming cable channels, we can give them the value-added for their advertising dollar.
Another great feature we discovered is that we have an easy way to test new ideas now. We simply float a ‘news leak’ about whatever it is we’re looking to test, and within hours we’ve got useful data! I figure as long as we keep the NSA as the primary boogey-men for folks to worry about, we’ll stay nearly invisible to everyone.”

The Burglar

A few years ago there was a man who lived in my neighborhood, about 3 doors down from me. He had a wife who worked at the local convenience store, and they had a little boy who was about five years old. They weren’t the friendliest folks who’d ever lived here, but they’d occasionally wave hello if I saw them outside. I’m not sure that he had a job, I guessed that he stayed home and took care of his son. I was sort of right, and sort of wrong  about that.
As it turned out, he was a petty thief. What they used to call a ‘cat burglar’ back in the day. I can only assume that he plied his trade outside of our general area, because I don’t remember any hint of trouble with him. At least not until that day that he set his sights on my next door neighbor’s place.
He had been watching Don and Emmy’s place for a few weeks, keeping note of their patterns of home and away times. When they worked, when they got home from work, when they shopped, or went to the gym. I think he just became obsessed with their place, and I’m not even sure why. They weren’t flashy people, Don did drive a BMW, but Emmy had a Toyota. They had the usual amenities that middle class folks had, large flat screen TVs, a nice stereo, some are that I assume was valuable. Whatever it was, he wanted in there, and set his mind to making that happen. Then one day, just before noon, as I recall, he decided to make his move. I was home that day only because I’d had dental surgery the day before, and wasn’t up to going back to work yet.
In the interests of full disclosure; I wasn’t watching either him, or the place next door, so I am surmising some of the rest of this.
He must have cased the place from the outside, to look for an easy way in, but unfortunately the only open window in the house was a bathroom one. It was a fairly small window, almost exactly the same as the one in my guest bathroom. It’s not even a square foot in size, and it’s also about five feet off the ground. I’m sure he tried his best, but it was just too small for him to ever get through. I guess that’s when he had the worst idea in his entire life. He went and got his kid, to help him break into the house. He figured he could boost the kid up and into the window, then he could run through the place and open the back door, and viola, he’s in! From my open window on that side of the house I could hear him telling his boy that he really needed him to do this. He told him that the people who lived there had lost their keys, and had asked him to try to get the house open before they came home. After hearing all of that, it didn’t take me long to figure out what was what, and I called 911.
Well, he managed to convince the boy to do it, and boosted him up to the window, and pushed him through it. Then he ran to the back door and waited for him to come unlock it. But, the boy didn’t come. I heard him knock on the back door and tell the boy “This way, little buddy, come to this door.” After a few minutes he ran back to the bathroom window and shouted for the kid to ‘Go unlock the damn door!’. He ran back to the door again, but nothing happened.
When the cops finally arrived, the guy didn’t even try to run. I guess he was actually concerned for his kid, I respected that little part of him right then. After the cops gained entry to the house, they found the kid dead on the bathroom floor. He’d fallen in from the window, about a four foot drop, and had broken his neck when he hit the floor. The dad was arrested for burglary and homicide as well.The guy’s wife moved away even before he went to trial, I don’t have any idea what became of her. He got life in prison, no possibility of parole.

Athena’s Haven

Being driven to a mysterious location, in the dark of night with a sleep shade over my eyes, made me feel like I was being kidnapped by terrorists meaning to do me harm. That couldn’t be further from the truth though; I was a willing participant in this secretive operation.
Allow me to backtrack a bit and explain.
My name is Bob Burns, (yes, my mother loved the poet and named me after him). I’m a middle aged guy who recently got through his third divorce, and made the decision that I needed to see a counselor before taking another shot at romance. All of my relationships with women seemed to start off great, but then slowly decline after a year or two. Since the only common denominator in all my past relationships is me, I figured that I must be the source of my own problems.
I lucked out and found a really good therapist on my first try. Dr. Bascom is an amazing person, and probably the most careful listener I have ever encountered. She picks up on every nuance, or hesitation in my dialog with her. I thought it would drive me nuts at first, her pausing me mid-speech to ask “what’s going on with you right now?” But every time it actually revealed something I was trying to skip past. Whether I knew I was doing it, or not.
As we combed through my past relationships with women, starting back in my teenaged years, I began to see a pattern emerge. I needed to be in a relationship with a woman to be able to feel worthy. My own self-worth was based upon my ability to attract and form an intimate relationship with a woman. Of course I had never been aware of it, at least nothing like I was after seeing it like this in counseling. To her credit, Dr. Bascom didn’t minimize it either, but rather said I really needed to get in touch with whatever it was in me that made this so important.
That was a tough assignment as it turns out. I did not have a bad relationship with my mother when I was young. Quite the opposite actually, we had a great relationship and I only have the fondest memories of her. In fact, over the next few sessions we explored this almost exclusively, but found no ‘smoking gun’ that might have triggered this behavior. Dr. Bascom asked me if I was open to hearing a more ‘eclectic’ theory. Of course, I was indeed.
“Bob, I’ve been a therapist for almost 30 years.” She told me. “I usually can tell when a patient is holding back something important, even if it’s completely involuntary on their part. But with you, I don’t get that feeling. You’ve been amazingly open, and even courageous in your willingness to look into yourself, your past, and confront what you’ve found there. I find your situation to be unusual in one important way too; you’re not a multi-partner person. By that I mean you’re not collecting sexual partners in order to fulfill some idea of what you think it means to be a man. When you’re in a committed relationship you seem to stay there, and stick with it. Yet, for this issue we’ve found nothing that leads me to believe that your self-esteem, being tied up with your relationships, stems from some trauma in your past. I find myself entertaining the idea that this is more of a spiritual predisposition.”
We’d spoken of spiritual matters in past sessions, so I already knew that she and I believed in fairly similar concepts. We definitely felt the same about traditional religion, which was that we both rejected it completely. Not so much their beliefs about God, or the afterlife, but more of the dogma and ceremony that accompanies so many churches. We both believed in reincarnation, and the idea that we’re all here living out our lives in order to learn and become more perfect souls. Each new life having a list of lessons to be learned through our life experiences, and choices we make.
“I think part of your soul’s lesson plan here is to come to a new understanding about women, and female energy. You’re chasing after that energy, and using its approval to feel good about who you are as a man. No matter the cause of that, we both know it isn’t a healthy mental state to be in. Your self-esteem shouldn’t be based on the acceptance and approval of others. It’s always bound to be let down at some point when your relationship changes. I have an idea that just may help, but it’s rather unusual and you’ll have to be willing to give it a try. There’s a remote retreat I know about that I think may help you. It’s primarily, well, almost exclusively a women’s retreat, but they have accepted a man there on rare occasion. I am friends with the founder/director there, and I believe if I explain this situation to her, she may make an exception for you. Are you willing to try this?”
“Well, it sounds interesting, but I do have a couple of concerns.” I said. “I am a little confused about how staying at a retreat for all woman is going to help resolve my issue? Isn’t it like sending an alcoholic to bartending school?”
“Hardly.” She said with a hint of a smile. “Firstly, you’re not some sex addict that uses or mistreats women. You have a spiritual issue that’s tied up with the feminine essence, and immersing yourself in an environment of all women may just be the key to triggering the insight you need to figure this out. Ascilla Azure is the director of Athena’s Haven. She founded the retreat about twenty five years ago, far up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. It serves as a safe haven for women to stay at while they process their own issues. From abuse, both physical and sexual, to more emotional or spiritual issues that need sorting out. The exact location is confidential, and is only revealed to the client after careful vetting. As a man, there’s a good chance I will have to drive you there, and you may even be required to have your eyes covered once we get close.”
“Seriously?” I asked with obvious surprise. “It sounds more like a CIA covert operation than a women’s retreat. Are you positive I am going to be welcome there?”
“Yes, absolutely. Ascilla is one of the most spiritually advanced people I have ever met. She’s what I call an Old Soul, for lack of better words. If she approves you staying, everyone there will respect that and treat you well. My advice to you is that you engage the other guests as often as possible. Most really don’t mind you asking what it is that brought them there. I have a feeling that hearing their stories may start to shed some light on your individual quest.”
Clearly Dr. Bascom held considerable sway with Ascilla Azure. I was approved in a matter of days, and arrangements were made for my stay at Athena’s Haven. Just as she’d said, they asked Dr. Bascom to drive me there, at night, and at a designated spot, have me don a sleep shade over my eyes. These were some very careful people, but I respected that. I guessed that there were probably some women there who had escaped a violent partner, and truly did not want to be found.
On the drive there I asked Dr. Bascom if she could tell me more about the place. I was very curious when she first told me about it, and now was even more so after being instructed to bring nothing with me except toothbrush and toiletries. I was also curious about how she knew Ascilla Azure.
“I stayed there for a month, about fifteen years ago. One of my peers first told me about it, and since I had just come out of an ugly divorce, I thought I could use some time away from everything. When I met Ascilla, she had that stare that was like someone looking directly into your soul, and understanding everything you are, and everything you’ve ever done. Like an eternal mother looking at one of her children and knowing who they are, and loving everything about them. I had never felt such complete acceptance in my entire life. I think I cried off and on my entire first day there.”
“What do you do there all day?” I asked. “I’m hoping it’s not like a monastery and I’ll have to be silent, do chores and pray all day.”
“Oh gosh no! It’s a retreat, Bob. It’s got a fair amount of organization to it, any place like it has to, but, it’s geared around social interaction and groups of people talking and sharing. The permanent staff is there mostly to facilitate the discussions, and focus people on themselves. No sarcasm, judgments or real negativity is allowed. You will encounter all kinds of women there, Bob. You’ll meet women who are younger, older, straight, gay, asexual, bold, timid, and so many more. I can’t describe everything to you, you’ll just have to see for yourself once there. By the way, now is a good time for you to put the night shade on too.”
I wasn’t even there yet and already I’d made a self-discovery; riding in a car at night, blindfolded, makes me unbelievably nauseous. I had to roll my window down and let in the cool night air to keep from ruining the nice leather upholstery of her car.
I have no idea what time it was when we finally arrived, but I knew it was well past when I usually go to bed and I was exhausted. Dr. Bascom allowed me to remove the night shade as soon as we pulled up to the front of the building. I was somewhat surprised to see it was a large ranch-style building that could have easily passed for an expensive mountain home. We were met by a young woman wearing a white kaftan and sandals. Sylvia was one of the permanent staff here, and although she wasn’t here back when Dr. Bascom was, she still greeted her as warmly as if she had been. I offered my hand when I was introduced, but it was stepped past in favor of a nice hug.
Sylvia led us inside, while explaining that because of the hour everyone else was sleeping. The room I was going to be staying in wasn’t quite ready for me, so she showed me to a large sunken living room with four long, low-back couches that faced each other to form a square. My guess was that it’s for large group meetings or sessions. She had already put a blanket and a pillow on one of the couches, and told me to go ahead and lie down if I felt tired. She and Dr. Bascom disappeared into a side office, and I did just as she had suggested. I was beyond tired and ready for some sleep. I removed my shoes and set them on the small bag I had brought with me. I was asleep in seconds, and I don’t even remember dreaming.
I have no idea how much time had passed, but I became aware of the murmur of voices around me, and movement. I could feel someone stroking my cheek with the back of their hand. As I slowly opened my eyes and tried to orient myself, I was almost sure this was actually a dream after all. The other couches around me were occupied by about twenty women of all ages, races, shapes and sizes, and most of whom were completely nude.
As I gathered my wits, I looked up to see who was touching my face. My eyes met two very beautiful green eyes, looking right back at me. Long dark hair framed a lovely face that bore a Mona Lisa smile.
“Good morning Bob, I’m Ascilla Azure, welcome to Athena’s Haven.”
She was wearing a similar white kaftan to the one Sylvia had on last night. A thin white cotton material that buttoned up the front. I couldn’t really guess at her age, she was one of those people that just didn’t show age like the rest of us do. She could have been 35, and she could have been 45, I just couldn’t tell. As I sat up, she steadied my shoulders until I was upright, and facing the group. Then, quite unexpectedly she threw her legs over the back of the couch, and slid down behind me so I was almost in her lap. She put her arms under mine, and hugged me from behind, not too tightly, but sincerely and warmly.
“Everyone please welcome Bob.” She said to the women there. But, before they actually recited anything in union, she went on. “And, Bob, please know you are truly welcomed here. You are not an oddity, you are not a stranger, you are one of us.”
The other women all smiled and greeted me, not in unison, but each in their own way. Several smiles, many waves, some ‘hellos’ and ‘welcomes’. Azure never let up on the hug she was giving me, I was pulled back into her chest, and could feel the warmth of her breasts on my back. She had moved her legs around me and crossed her heels in my lap, then began to slowly rock me left and right, not hard, just a slow steady movement.
“Bob, I want you to know you’re loved here. I want you to know you’re accepted here Bob, just as you are. You are loved, we love you Bob, I love you Bob…” She said quietly into my right ear.
Just then, the others began to say the same thing. Not loudly, and not all at once ether. I didn’t know what to think at first, my mind was reeling and I felt awkward and exposed. But, with Azure’s arms around me, coupled with her voice – the voices of the others – all so sincere and meaningful. I broke down sobbing like a child, and she just held me, continued to rock me and repeat her statement of love. It was powerful, and it was overwhelming too. But, most of all, it was real, genuine love. I could feel it to my core, more love and acceptance than I had ever felt before in my life.
As my tears began to subside, I noticed the other women begin to stand and leave the room, one by one. Even Ascilla had stopped speaking, and was just holding on to me and letting the moment happen naturally. When the last person had left, Ascilla deftly slid out from behind me, and moved to my right, facing me. I had managed to pull myself together, and I smiled as I saw her face again.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions Bob, but they don’t have to all be asked right now. I want you to stay in the moment if you can, and breathe in the feelings you were experiencing. Don’t wipe them away like tears, but let them resonate in you.” She said as she placed the palm of her right hand over my heart, and left it there.
I just stared into her eyes, the kindest eyes I have ever seen. If they truly are the windows to the soul, then her soul was alive with light and love.
“As you’re staying in your feelings, let me tell you about Athena’s Haven.” She said. “I wanted this to be a place of love, acceptance and safety for women to come to. I knew so many women that were suffering in one way or another – whether at someone’s hands, words, or even society’s expectations that were heaped upon them. I mean no offense to you when I say that it’s still a male dominated society Bob, and many women are very sensitive to that. It’s not a good feeling to be constantly reminded that you’re in the ‘Second Class’ and don’t have a ticket to get in to the First Class.”
“I felt that women needed a place to come to where they were completely in charge, and totally in power. I just wanted to create a small oasis where they could find some relief from the everyday pressures of our current society. But I also dreamt of a place of love and trust, of insight and honesty for all who came here. I worked very hard on all of it, and I like to think I have achieved my goals with this haven. I am very careful about who comes here, and even more so about who I ask to stay on and become staff. I want everyone who passes through our doors to have a loving and healing experience.”
“When I finally decided on this location, I had to spend a couple of years fund raising to be able to buy, and build here. My parents, Patrick and Tere lived on the property in a trailer for almost two years, supervising the work, and making sure it was done the way I had planned it. My father would help out where he could, and my mother made sure all the workers were well fed. They were so amazing, I owe them so much more than I can repay. But, they say they’re just happy seeing the work we do here.”
“Bob, now I want you to think of your two most important questions, and ask them. I don’t mean to limit you for no reason, I just want you to relax and organize your questions. See which ones come to the top of the list.”
That was tougher than it sounded at first. I had all kinds of trivial questions like Where’s my room? Or when and where do we eat? But, I understood her perfectly, she wanted me to reach deeper that physical or organizational questions.
“I assume Dr. Bascom filled you in on everything, so I’m just going to cut to the chase; How is being here going to resolve the issue I’ve had with women my whole life?” I asked her.
“Bob, I truly wish I had a simple and compact answer to give you right here and now, but I don’t. You’re going to have to trust in the experience of being here, and let things unfold as they will. I do have answers, but not for questions so great as that one.” She said, smiling at me.
“Well, okay, let me think a second…” I was stalling. “Alright, I have one; Um, why are so many women not wearing clothes? And, even the ones that are wearing something, well it’s just barely anything at all.”
The smile faded from her face, and I was sure I’d crossed some boundary with her. Maybe I was supposed to have pretended I didn’t notice the nudity, but I don’t think I could have gotten away with that for very long. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to ask about it even if I did notice it.
“Bob, once again I ask you to indulge me on this answer. In our Western society, and in many others as well, a woman’s body is always under scrutiny. She’s constantly evaluated and judged by so many other people, and for every day of her life. It’s not just all from men though, it’s also families, friends, other women, strangers of all types, doctors, politicians, and more. But maybe worst of all is the self-evaluation that goes on inside our own minds. We begin absorbing messages about how we should look from a very young age, Bob. From the moment you put a little girl down in front of the television, or let her see a magazine or movie, she’s already bombarded by expectations and judgments about a woman’s body.
“From Hips to hair, weight to her walk, a woman is always being observed and judged, and it’s overwhelming to many of us. I’m sorry to say Bob, most men just don’t understand it either. Even men who think of themselves as enlightened can still be seen observing a woman’s butt or boobs as she passes by them. It’s a pressure that drives many women to extremes too. With eating disorders, depression, unnecessary surgeries, painful shoes or clothing, and so many other affects.”
“I wanted Athena’s Haven to be a place of no judgment, especially on the physical body. So, we have found that being lightly dressed, or undressed helps all of us see past the body. No high heels, no fancy dresses, no exotic lingerie or other traps that we use to hide ourselves. That’s why we told you to bring nothing but your toiletries and any health items you need. We provide you with something to wear, or you can wear nothing at all if you choose.”
“I hope you will just be comfortable here Bob. I believe that Sylvia is ready to show you to your room now, and she will also give you a quick tour so you can see where everything is. I’ll be seeing you later today, so until then, just relax, look around, and meet people. There’s always staff around to guide you, or answer more questions. Remember, you’re loved Bob, very loved. And, I am so glad you’re here.”
She stood, turned and walked away, and I remained seated for a minute thinking about all she’d said. I could already tell this was going to be a lot tougher in a way than I had thought. Amazing probably, but tough too. I stood up and folded the blanked I had used, and stacked the pillow on top of it. Sylvia showed up two second later to take me around the place.
It turned out to be so much bigger than I thought when I first saw it. There were three floors and a basement in the main building itself. It had two long wings of rooms that spread out in a V shape from the back of the main building. Sylvia said they could have as many as 40 guests at a time, but usually tried to keep it to about 25 if possible. Almost everything was painted white around here too. The rooms, the hallways, and even the floors were all white. The couches we had all been on, and the carpet between them, all white. I made a mental note to ask about that.
Through a window I saw a couple of outbuildings, Sylvia said they used them for small groups that wanted seclusion, and one doubled as a sauna too. In the basement of the main building was a large library, well stocked with books and journals. There were media rooms with big screen monitors, and a couple of computer stations as well. There was a row of small private rooms along one wall, furnished with either comfortable chairs, or small couches inside. Private reading rooms I was told.
When we got back upstairs, we went down the West hallway and Sylvia showed me a huge kitchen and dining room that looked like a set from a TV cooking show. She took me in to get something quick to eat since it was already mid-morning and past the normal breakfast time. I picked out a blueberry muffin and we were on our way again. Down near the very end of the hallway was my room.
It reminded my of my dorm room in college. Simple and spartan, but functional as well. Sylvia told me to get comfortable and make myself at home. My bag was already on the bed, as were a pair of white cotton shorts and a matching shirt. I presumed this was my wardrobe for my stay here. I thanked her for the tour, and closed the door. I really needed to use the bathroom, have a shower, and change clothes. Some things were just going to happen in private, I thought.
After a hot shower and a shave, I was more than a bit shocked to see the clothes I’d arrived in were gone off of the bed where I’d left them. I guess the dress code was kind of mandatory in a way. I looked in the small chest there hoping to find some underwear, but it was nearly empty. Just some pens, and paper to write on. I put on the shorts and felt a little self conscious about the semi transparency of the material. I looked at myself and could definitely tell not much was left to the imagination. The shirt was on the long side, so it helped a little, but I could tell I was going to have to face my own body issues. If the women could do it, then so could I. I just had to trust that they were not judging me either.
I did as Ascilla instructed and wandered and explored both the interior and exterior of the place. The outdoor area was very beautiful, tall pines and Manzanita bushes everywhere. It was a beautiful and natural contrast to the stark interior of the retreat. I only encountered one other guest outside, and she was sitting under a tree and reading.
I sat at a picnic table, under some different trees, to just be alone and think. The mornings welcome session was still echoing in my mind, and I wasn’t sure why I had reacted so emotionally. I suppose the overall feeling of acceptance and love was just more than I could handle all at once. But, maybe it was more than that, more than just what was being said. Was it acceptance I was really looking for this whole time? Were all of these failed past relationships just attempts to feel some level of acceptance from women? If it was true, I still didn’t know why – and that’s what I really needed to figured out.
Lost in thought for longer than I had intended, by the time I got back inside people were gathering for dinner. The food was set out buffet style, so I got in line and just tried to do what I saw everyone else doing. I was behind a young woman who was amongst the ones that chose to forgo clothing. I concentrated on the back of her head so I didn’t accidentally ‘check her out’. I may be a somewhat evolved man, but I’m a man nonetheless, and some things just happen automatically if I don’t think about it.
Conveniently when she turned around to look at me, I was already making eye contact with her. She introduced herself as Kristen, and of course, said she already knew who I was. As we filled our plates, she invited me to join her at a table, and so I did. We made small talk at first, and I think was doing a pretty good job of not looking at her breasts while we ate. Of course I could see them, but as long as I looked at her eyes I could almost forget I was having dinner with a naked woman.
I remembered what Dr. Bascom had told me about not being afraid to ask someone why there were here, so I decided to give it a try, and I asked.
“I was in an abusive relationship for about five years.” She told me. “It started out pretty good, but I didn’t know that he was the jealous kind when we were first dating. I moved in with him after only two months of seeing each other, and that’s when things started to change. If I was getting ready for work, and I had on a nice outfit, sometimes he’d tell me to change. He’d tell me I didn’t look good enough to wear something like that. After that he started telling me I was ugly, and I was lucky he even wanted me. He’d say that no other men would want to be with me, so I’d better be grateful to him.”
“Wow, that’s horrible. How could you put up with that?”
“I was only 20 when I moved in with him, so I’d only ever lived with my own family prior to that. And I’d only had one boyfriend before him, so I had almost nothing to compare to. After a while, I started to believe him. Any time I did something he didn’t like, he’d ignore me to punish me. I’d cry and beg for his attention, beg for him to forgive me and just talk to me. After about a year of that, well, that’s when he first hit me. I was crying and asking him to tell me what I had done, when suddenly he just backhanded me in the face. I’m not very big so I went flying across the room. I don’t even think I screamed, I was just in pure shock for a long while afterwards.”
I was stunned. I had never spoken face to face with a woman who’d been abused like this, and every paternal instinct inside me was screaming to avenge her. I wanted to find that guy and pound him into dust… but, I also knew that you can’t beat the ignorance out of someone. So, I took a deep breath and kept listening.
“All the abuse worked at my self-esteem and I really did start to feel like I was the biggest loser on the planet. I was ugly, misshapen, stupid, clumsy, a lousy lay, a bad cook, and a slut anytime I put on something he didn’t like. Oddly, the best thing that ever happened to me was when he got busted for trying to pick up on an underage prostitute. It was a police setup, and he got caught and put in jail. He called me to bail him out, but when I said I wasn’t sure we had the money, he started yelling and swearing. I hung up on him. I was scared out of my mind, but I also knew if I was ever going to get away from him, this was my chance.
“I didn’t care if I ended up on the streets, I just had to get out of there. I packed a small bag with some important things, and also anything I could think of that might give him any clues to where I’d gone. I didn’t even take any of the clothes that he’d convinced me to buy, I left all that behind. I’d been working at a coffee shop, so I went by there first to let them know I was leaving. In the two years I’d worked there I had never told my manager what my home life was like – I was too ashamed. That evening, I told her everything so she’d know my quitting wasn’t about her. She’d been a good person to me, and I couldn’t leave and have her think it was the job.
“She truly was an awesome woman too. After hearing my story, she paid me double what she owed me, even though I protested. She also gave me a card for a women’s shelter that a friend of hers runs in the next town over. She told me exactly what bus to take, and by the time my bus arrived, her friend was right there waiting for me. Her name was Luanne, and she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met. She stayed up all night with me, just listening to my stories, and making me tea. She had the most distinctive laugh of anyone I’d ever met, and when she let it loose, you knew you’d really cracked her up. She was the one that suggested I come here. Luanne didn’t believe that I was far enough away to be truly safe from my ex. She contacted Ascilla, and in a couple days I was here. My life has been amazing ever since then, I am a completely different person now, and my soul is at peace finally.”
I had never wanted to clap after hearing a personal story from someone, but I was darn close to doing so right then. I felt happier just having heard her story, and all I could think of doing (so I didn’t clap) was to stand up and hug her. She accepted my hug with true appreciation, and enthusiasm. I was so happy to have heard her story, and gotten to know her. Kristen was a fine young woman, and I just felt like she was going to do big things in her life. We finished our meals, and said good night to each other.
I have a feeling it wasn’t pure coincidence that I ran into Ascilla in the hallway on my way to my room.
“I see you met Kristin, what did you think about her?”
“I think she’s a really amazing young woman. She’s been through so much terrible stuff yet she has this amazing outlook on life. I mean after all that abuse by that guy too.”
“How did you feel as she was telling you about the abusive times?”
“Oh I wanted to go find that guy and beat the crap out of him for what he did to her. She’s so great, and he just treated her like shit.”
“Did you feel sexually attracted to her?”
“No, not at all. I actually felt sort of parental towards her. I guess it’s her age, but I really got wound up when I heard about that guy. If I were her dad, I’d probably be in jail for what I’d have done to him. Sorry, I guess that’s kind of violent sounding. I don’t really mean it, but it’s just how I felt as she told me the story.”
“It’s okay Bob, you’re a good person, and you have a good heart. You get strong protective feelings when you hear about powerlessness and abuse. That’s natural, especially for a man like you. But, can you now step back, and take a deep breath, and see it differently? Can you see that if someone had come to rescue her, even with fine and noble intentions such as your own, that she’d have not made the same decisions that she made? She wouldn’t have done it all for herself like she did. Being rescued, and finding the inner strength to change your own life are two very different things.”
“Yeah, I do see that, now that you point it out. She needed to get to the place where she took control of her own life, and got herself out of that situation. She had to do it herself.” I said.
“Exactly. Once she made her choice, she had plenty of help and guidance along her way. And, now we’re blessed to have her here with us. Well, good night Bob, we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
I told her good night, and watched her walk away. I know I was probably breaking some kind of rule, but I couldn’t help but notice what a lovely figure she had. She was actually a bit taller than me, but thin and athletic looking. I suddenly felt my thin cotton shorts get a little snug. I was glad no one was in the hallway as I made my way to my room.
I slept like a rock that night, and didn’t wake up until I saw sunlight streaming into my room. It was so quiet at the Haven, so much different than my usual urban noise pollution I was accustomed to.
I am not much of a breakfast eater, so after putting on my shorts and shirt, I just grabbed a coffee and went outside. The air was crisp, but not too cold. It smelled fresh and unpolluted, unlike the city air I breathe daily. I didn’t see Sylvia come out, so I startled when she spoke to me.
“Good morning Bob, are you going to join us for meditation?”
“Oh hi. Um, sure. When and where does it happen?”
“In about ten minutes in the Great Room. See you there!”
I didn’t know there was an organized meditation group, but I could use the quiet and relaxation that it offered. I went back inside and saw most of the women were already on the couches, and some on the floor. I decided to sit on the floor with my back against the arm of one of the couches. On the upper landing, there were three large pillows, and Ascilla and two of the staff were sitting on them facing us. There was some soft instrumental music playing in the background, probably to help us relax.
“Alright, let’s get quiet.” Ascilla said to us. “I want you all to concentrate on your breath. As you inhale I want you to mentally say ‘One’ and as you exhale I want you to think ‘Two’. In, One, out, Two. Try to conjure an image of the actual number as you think it. Picture that number on a large movie screen in your mind. One, Two, One, Two. Don’t rush it, just breathe naturally.”
As everyone was doing that, I looked around the room at the diverse women who were there. Everyone seemed so peaceful and self possessed, and so completely comfortable with who they are. Much like yesterday morning, about half were wearing something, and half were not. I was just amazed by that comfort level. Personally, I rarely walked around nude in my own apartment, so to do it here was something I could hardly consider. I don’t think I have a bad body image, just not a really good one.
I used to be in better shape, back in my thirties, but that was 20 years ago, and things have shifted a little since then. I could stand to lose 20 pounds, and exercise more. I keep telling myself I will get around to that sometime soon. In the meantime, I was glad for the long oversized shirt.
I wasn’t doing very well with my meditation, I had already lost track of my ones and twos, and was looking around to see if I was the only one. A woman across from me was making direct eye contact. It was unflinching, intense and hungry. I had to be the first to look away, I felt slightly intimidated by her. I tried my best to get back to the ones and twos, in and out, in and out. Just breathe, just breathe.
“Alright everyone, now that we’re relaxed, let’s do some focus work.” Ascilla said. “I want you to think about where you used to be – and what brought you here. I want you to go back in time, and then walk through your own lifeline, like you’re seeing a movie in fast-forward. See how far you’ve come.”
At first I didn’t really think I could participate in this mental journey. I remembered Kristen’s story from yesterday, and my life hasn’t been anything like that. I don’t have some horrible memory to conjure up, or some trauma that I survived. But, looking around the room, almost every person had their eyes closed, imagining their life’s movie. I saw tears on almost every face, and some with tears and a slight smile at the same time. I could actually feel the pure and open emotions in the room. I was moved by how many of the women were obviously so proud of how far they’d come.
I started to think about my past significant relationships with the women in my life. How they started off so great, but then began to fade as time went on. Why was that? Why did I always end up feeling so empty at the end of each relationship? Like I was drained out and dry inside. Why wasn’t I enough for them? I did everything they wanted me to do, lived up to every expectation they had… Soon enough I was crying like a child with my hands over my eyes – like I was hiding it. When I moved my hands, and wiped away more tears, I saw that Ascilla had moved down and was sitting right in front of me.
“Bob, do you think you can tell me what you saw? What came up for you?” She asked.
Some of the women around me were still in their own meditations, but several more had moved closer and were facing me. Each and every face that was looking at me was looking on with kindness. I could actually feel the love and support without one word being said.
“I saw myself in my past relationships. I saw how they all started so well, with lots of attraction, lots of mutual interests, fun & sex. But each time they began to fade away, to lose all of what made it so great in the first place.”
“Was it the actual relationship that diminished, or something else?” She asked quietly
“I don’t know… Maybe not. I think…” I was crying again. “I think maybe it’s me. I faded, I lost interest, I couldn’t do it anymore, but I don’t know why! What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do it right?”
I really lost it then, sobbing and burying my face in my hands again. I felt so exposed and vulnerable, but also safe enough to be able to express my inner fears too.
“Bob, let’s try something okay? I want you to think back to those great beginnings. Just the very beginning of your last two or three relationships. I want you to think about the feelings you had then. How were you attracted to each other? Who initiated the first dates? Who declared their love first? And, how did you feel loved by those people – what made you feel appreciated and loved?”
It was easy to think about the beginnings of romantic relationships, that was the good part, the best parts of a romance. That was the time you felt a hundred feet tall, and like you could do no wrong. Every part of your being was tingling, and you hung on every word the other person said. Just thinking about those times brought my crying to a stop, and I found my words again.
“I’ve never thought about those questions before, like ‘how were we attracted?’ I guess it was just me noticing that a woman was checking me out, or actually flirting with me, or coming on to me. I’d just know, I guess. As for the dates, I think I’d try to find out about the kind of things they like to do, and then plan something fun that I thought they’d like. I am a pretty emotional guy, so I’ve probably always been the one to be the first to say ‘I love you’ to someone. After that, I guess they’d say it too. As for how I knew I was loved – that’s a harder question.
“I felt loved and appreciated when I did things that made them happy I suppose. If I made a great dinner, or fixed something that was needing repair, or if I bought them something special they’d been wanting. Those things felt really good to me.”
“Bob, what did you feel when they just praised you for being a good person? How did it feel to know they loved you for just being you?”
That question was like a punch in the gut. I just stared at her for what seemed like forever. Silent tears began to stream down my face as I started to realize my answer. But, I couldn’t answer, and I think she knew it.
“You’re a wonderful man Bob, and I think you may be the last one to discover that. You’re a pleaser, and you want so badly to make your partner happy. You’d do almost anything for them, I am sure of that. From your taking care of their every want and need, to being selfless in bed too, I’ll bet. But, what does Bob want? What does Bob get to ask for, and get? I believe that Bob gets lost in all the pleasing of the other person. And, at some point, when there’s just not enough things you can do for them, your feeling of being loved starts to fade away.”
From punched in the gut, to shot between the eyes, I was a dying man. I exploded in tears and sobbing. Ascilla moved to me and hugged me to her chest; arms wrapped around my head, and just let me cry. I cried for myself, for the ‘lost Bob’ that always tried so hard to be so good. I cried for all of the times I ever felt I wasn’t ‘enough’ of something for someone. And, I cried because I wasn’t sure I even knew myself anymore. I don’t know how long I was like that, but when I finally sat up to face her, everyone else was gone. Ascilla was smiling softly at me, and I knew she had a question behind those eyes.
“Bob, if only you could see yourself as others see you. I think you’d be amazed by it. I also think you had a big breakthrough today, and have a lot to think about. I just want you to know that you’re loved, cared about, and admired here. You’ve made huge strides in such a short time. I’m not sure I have know many others who are as brave as you are. Brave enough to look at the hardest parts of yourself, and really see what’s there. And, brave enough to let yourself feel the pain that comes along with that. You should get some rest, and just keep letting yourself feel everything. I’ll be around if you need me.”
She gave me a strong hug, stood up and walked away. I sat there for a while longer, but with other guests walking through, and staff around, I decided to find someplace where I could think about everything that had happened here. I felt too wrung out to be able to be social tonight, and since I didn’t feel hungry, I could just go somewhere and be alone.
I decided to go to one of the reading rooms down in the library to just think and process through everything. I found that all of the reading rooms were empty, so I had my choice of any of them. I chose the smallest one, with just a loveseat and a chair in it. I plopped down in the chair, and took some deep breaths to try and get focused. So many thoughts were running through my mind, it was hard to concentrate on any one thing. Since no one was around I took off my shirt, and left the door open so it wouldn’t get too warm in there.
I’d only been there for about thirty minutes when Sandra walked in. I remembered her from the group session earlier; she had the very intense stare that’s hard to forget. She asked if she could come in, and I nodded to her. Sandra looks to be a little older than me, mid 60s maybe. She is petite, tan, and looks like she works out quite a bit because he muscles are well defined. She was wearing the standard kaftan, but completely unbuttoned, showing that she took a great deal of care with her body.
“You look like you could use a friend right now.” She said softly, closing the door. “…Or, maybe just some help processing what you’re feeling?”
“Well, it was a pretty deep session. I’m still thinking over everything that I said and felt. Trying to sort out what it means to me. It’s just that it’s not happening very easily.” I said.
“Maybe I can help you. You need to get your mind off of it for a little while. Let’s try something, sit up straighter and put your knees together.” She said
I wasn’t sure how this worked, but since she’d been here longer than I have, I figured she knew a process that would help me. I sat up in the chair straighter, and put my knees together like she asked. She stepped forward until she was straddling my knees, and then sat down on them. She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes.
“Just relax and start breathing in and out through your nose, as forcefully as you can. Close your eyes and just think about your breathing, it will help you focus.” She said quietly.
I started breathing in and out like she said, and she began to massage my shoulders and upper arms. I mostly kept my eyes closed, but I looked at her through squinted eyelids to see what she was doing. She was breathing in sync with me, and she had her eyes closed too. As she began to massage my chest, she also started to move her hips on my legs very slowly. I felt her move her upper body in a shrugging motion, and peeked again to see that she’d dropped her kaftan back off her shoulders and was letting it fall off her arms and on to the floor.
She had small breasts, and pronounced nipples that were very erect at the moment. I was really starting to question what was going on here. I’m not and idiot, but I am trusting, and this was starting to feel more like a seduction than a therapeutic process. She saw me peeking, and used her hands to close my eyes again, and push my head backward so I was facing the ceiling. Her hips were moving more now, making circles on my thighs. I felt her hand move down my stomach and grasp my now turgid erection.
She undid the drawstring on my shorts, and freed me from the suddenly restrictive clothing. Pulling up and down on my shaft, she had moved her hips close enough to rub the head across her wet lips. I was breathing and trying to focus on my emotions, but my breathing had become staggered and I felt suddenly confused.
“Relax, just let things happen and go with it.” She whispered into my ear.
I put my hands under her armpits, and I stood up suddenly, lifting her to her feet at the same time.
“No!” I said. “I don’t want this, I’m sorry but I just don’t want this!” I was crying and my words were choked, but I could see she understood me. She grabbed her kaftan off the floor and quickly left the room. I collapsed on to the small couch there, curled up and let the tears come. I cried like I hadn’t ever cried before. Deep body wrenching sobs that seemed more like the retching convulsions when you’re sick. I’m not sure how long it went on, but I cried myself to sleep there.
When I woke up, Ascilla was sitting in the chair across from me. As soon as I opened my eyes, she went to her knees next to me and put her arms around me. She put her face next to mine, cheek to cheek, and just held me close to her. The warmth of her face, the smell of her hair, and her genuine kindness had me weeping again.
“Sandra came and told me what happened.” She said into my ear. “You’ve been through a real transformative experience today. Can you tell me what you felt? What you’re feeling now?”
“I don’t know what came over me.” I told her. “At first I was trying to go with the flow. Then I realized what she wanted to happen, and I was thinking maybe I should just go along with it, but then it was like lightning struck in my brain. I was just trying to please her… trying to do what she wanted because she wanted it from me. I’m supposed to do that right? I’m supposed to want what she wanted, because… I’m a man, right?”
“But the lightning, tell me about that” She said.
“It was like an energy surge, but coupled with thoughts and images that came flooding in from my whole life. All of the times I just ‘went with it’ or did what I thought was expected of me. It was like a lost part of me just shouted out ‘what about me?’ What did I want? Why was I ignoring me, in favor of what someone else wanted from me? I don’t know… I don’t know. That was my answer to myself. That’s when the lightning struck. It just hit me, I needed to be heard, I needed to please me, needed to put me first sometimes.”
I was still crying, but not hard. I actually felt sort of happy inside, pleased with myself, not a feeling I was used to. Ascilla moved her head back so she could look me in the eyes, she was smiling in a beautiful way.
“That’s a powerful realization. What does it mean to you?” She asked
“You were right, I’ve been a ‘pleaser’ my whole life.” I said “I’ve always tried to do what was expected of me, if not more. I felt happiness mostly when I did things that made others happy. But, until today I never realized that I was losing myself in the process. I wasn’t stopping to ask myself what it was that I truly wanted. I’d just be happy helping others get what they wanted, even if that was ignoring what I did, or didn’t want. In my relationships, if a woman wanted me, then that was enough. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t know for sure that I’ve ever pursued exactly what I’ve wanted.”
“I think you’re ready to start doing that now.” She said “I think you might find a lot of things changing in your life after today. You’ve made a break through, and from it you have a clearer vision of not only yourself, but what you really want in your life too.”
I sat upright and faced her, she was still kneeling in front of me. I am positive it was a surprise to her when I reached out and took her face in my hands and kissed her on the lips. But, to my great pleasure, she kissed back with passion, and arms wrapped around my neck.
“I do know what I want now. I mean, I suspected it from my first day here, but now it’s perfectly clear. I’m in love with you Ascilla. I’m in love with everything about you, everything you are, your entire being. I know I’m still a work in progress, but this is something I know in the deepest part of my heart.”
She knelt there, smiling at me. I thought the pause would kill me, waiting to hear what she was going to say. But, on the other hand, I had spoken my inner truth and I could stand by that. Somehow it felt very freeing to just say what was in my heart for once.
“I love you too, Bob. I told you that a few days ago, remember?”
“Yeah, but I thought you meant in that friendly spiritual way, not like what I’m saying now.”
“Bob, a week ago when Dr. Bascom called me to tell me about you, I felt a powerful energy inside myself as she spoke of you. The more she told me about you, and your struggles and issues, the more I felt that energy. The morning you arrived, I walked out to see you sleeping on the sofa there. I watched you for quite some time, while the others gathered to meet you. Once I’d seen your face, and felt your energy, I knew I was right with my feelings.
You’re an amazing man, Bob. Whether you know it yet or not, you’re simply amazing. And, each day that you’ve been here, I have seen you in the most earnest and dedicated struggle to find this buried part of yourself. You dedicated yourself to something so difficult, most people would have turned away from it. Or worse yet, blamed others for their own issue. You never even as much as joked about it, or tried to minimize any part of it. I can’t tell you how much I respect that, and admire all that you’ve done.”
She leaned forward and kissed me hard, and I knew that everything she’d just said was her truth as well. I wasn’t used to being admired, or called amazing, but I knew it was real for her, and maybe soon enough would feel real to me too.
She took me upstairs to where she lived. The entire third floor was her home, and it was colorful and beautiful like her. We made love like only two open and trusting souls can.

The Sphere

Tonight’s date was kind of a bust I guess. Mulling it over, as I cleaned up the dishes and emptied wine glasses, it seemed like another ‘first and last’ situation. I mean, she was pleasant enough, and plenty good looking enough too…so, what was it? Chemistry I suppose, maybe it really does just comes down to chemistry after all. She was pretty boring, come to think of it. Stories about her cat, her mother, her successful ex-husband, it was all so boring.


Well, that, and the fact that she didn’t get any of my jokes too. No quicker way to go from ‘Hot to Not’ in my book than to have me explain each one of my jokes or puns. Does she ever watch the news? Ever read the paper? I’m thinking that she doesn’t. I bet if I’d brought up something about that ‘The Bachelor’ show, she’d have had plenty to say.


Okay, what am I doing? That was mean spirited of me. It’s just the disappointment of another potential romance gone by the wayside. I’m a better person than that, and I do apologize for those negative thoughts. I think that being over 50 and single again makes me feel like the sand in a giant hourglass is pouring past, and I don’t have a lot of time left to find someone. Meh, I know that’s not true either, and I’m not sure what’s really behind this flair for the melodramatic tonight.


I know that I’m a good guy, and I don’t lose sight of that. I’m not perfect by any means, but good-natured, funny, kind, open hearted, creative and considerate to everyone. What’s not to love, right?

Well, okay, there are a couple things, but nothing major. Just like anyone, no different.


Yet, sometimes I do get this feeling that’s hard to explain. It’s like ‘time is running out’; but maybe more accurately ‘something’s coming, and I’d better be ready’. Although I have no idea how you get ‘ready’ for something you aren’t sure is really coming – and don’t have any clue to what it is.


So, I just live my life, same as you do. Get up every morning, do the three S’s, get myself to work on time, half-ass my way through my workday, and head home to relax and do it all again the next day.


Kitchen is cleaned up, now to find that cat and kick him out for the night. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great cat and all, but he also has a bad habit of thinking my nose is a toy at 3am. So, we have our quality time before I go to bed, and he can serenade the lady cats all night on his own. Right on the bed of course, where else would he be? I am sometimes surprised he’s not in the middle of my pillow, the comfort-seeker that he is.


Just as I reach for him, he startles and dashes off the bed, and crawls under it. “I don’t have time for these games Chairman Meow. It’s time for you to go out now buddy.”


As I’m getting on my hands and knees, and lifting up the edge of the comforter to see him, well, all I saw are huge golden eyes looking back at me in terror. He looks scared spit-less, and I can tell I’m going to need a tow truck to get him out from under there.


I have no idea what spooked him so badly, and I can’t remember seeing him act like this before. We’ve been roommates for over two years now, and he’s about the best cat I’ve ever known. He just showed up at my back door one evening, and I let him in for what I thought would be a minute.


He came right in and casually went from room to room as if he were inspecting the place. I could almost hear him thinking “I suppose this will do for now.” And, he’s been here ever since.


He’s great though, as cats go anyways. He’s fairly quiet, doesn’t shred up my furniture, poops outside, and it’s one of those super needy types. He’s just perfect for me. As long as I have a comfy bed, and keep him supplied with the good type of canned food he loves, I am pretty sure he’ll stick around. But tonight’s behavior, well, I have no explanation for.


Sitting on the carpet by my bed and wondering what my next move is going to be, I feel a slight rumble. Not really an earthquake type of rumble, but more like a vibration in the floor. I better check the window in the living room, I think, just to see if anything is going on outside.


As I’m padding down the hallway all hell breaks loose. A boom like I haven’t heard since I was a kid, when jets at the nearby airbase were allowed to fly low. But this boom knocks me off my feet, and blows in all my front windows too. If I’d have been ten feet further down the hall, I would have been shredded by flying glass.


I don’t know what the hell just happened, but something hit the ground outside, and hit it hard. My mind is reeling, and my earls are ringing. Plane crash? Space junk? What the hell could blow out my windows and knock me on my ass like that?


As I get to where the window, um, was – I can see my front yard looks like it was just plowed up. I can smell the fresh soil, and burnt grass, and something else I can’t identify. I go out the front door to assay what’s left of my front yard, and make sure I don’t need to put out any fires.


There’s a single furrow starting at the street, about three feet wide, and five feet deep and ending just short of the foundation of the house. In it lay a steaming ball of what looks like solid rock.


Small clumps of smoldering grass line each side of the trench cutting across my front yard. I can hear voices coming up behind me, neighbors who want to know what happened here. Quincy, from across the street is first to get to me.


“Damn man, what the hell is that?!”  Just behind him is Brinn, she lives next door to me. “Oh my God Lenny, are you all right?”  Both their voices seem muffled to me, probably the result of the massive sound wave when this thing hit the ground.


“I’m fine, I’m not hurt believe it or not.” I tell them. “I wish I could say the same for my windows, and stuff in my house.”


“I can’t believe you’re not hurt Lenny, and look how close that came to smashing right in to your house!” Brinn says.

“That’s the biggest meteor I’ve ever seen!” Quincy says. The look on his face is priceless. Part fear, and part astonishment.


My brain probably isn’t thinking clearly at this point, and without concern, I step into the trench to get a closer look at the meteor.


“Lenny, don’t get close to it man, you don’t know if it’s all radioactive, or has some kind of space shit on it!”


“Yeah, Quincy’s right, I wouldn’t go near it Lenny, it looks roasting-hot too.”


But, I can’t explain it; I just need to get closer to it. I move within about three feet of it, and Brinn is right, I can feel heat still. Suddenly the meteor begins to glow. A soft pinkish light starts to emanate from its surface, and I also feel the heat go away instantly. It doesn’t scare me, and hardly even startles me. It is almost like I’m expecting it to react to me.


“Lenny, get away from it man, that fucking thing could kill you!” Quincy is pretty riled up now, I can see it in his face. He is actually a few steps further back than the last time I had looked over at him. Brinn too is moving back a little, like they both think this is going to explode suddenly.


I dont share their fears though, I feel calm, and assured that it is all okay. Since I had felt the heat dissipate suddenly, I kniow it isn’t dangerous anymore.


So, I reach out for it; I really want to touch it.


“Damn dude, don’t touch it! Have you lost your mind?” I hear Quincy say, but it is even more muffled than before, like when someone speaks in a dream.


The pinkish surface of the meteor has somehow cleaned itself. It had been splotched with dirt and grass, but now it is smooth as glass and glowing. It has changed slightly to an almost peach color, and it is very inviting in a weird way. As my fingers make contact with the surface of what’s now, in my mind, a perfect sphere, I feel a small electrical spark, like carpet static.


I’m in an unfamiliar landscape suddenly. I’m standing on firm ground, but it’s not my yard, not my neighborhood, and I even fear it’s not my planet anymore. The sphere is right in front of me still, but I’m not where I was just one second ago. The sky is the same peachy color that the sphere was glowing, but there’s not much else here. No trees, no buildings or houses anywhere that I can see. As I turn in a circle to look all around me, just as I face the sphere again, there’s a woman standing right next to it. This time I’m actually startled, she made an entrance in complete silence. No footsteps, no nothing, just suddenly here.


She isn’t really what I’d call a normal human woman, but she does possess some of the features that women I know also have. She has no hair that I could see, not even eyebrows or lashes. In fact, she is completely hairless, and also completely naked.


But, her skin is what I am mesmerized by. I can only describe it as being somewhat like the sheen you see when oil is on top of water. Like a kind of rainbow effect, but denser, darker, and more vivid. The colors are also slowly swirling and moving all over her, it’s both fascinating and calming at the same time.


“I don’t sense any fear from you, and this pleases me.” She says. “I was correct in feeling that you were the perfect one to bring here.”


“Um, yeah, about that… where is ‘here’?”


“This is the Meeting Place. It is simple and hopefully calming to you. I made it for you based upon some images I had felt when you came close to the, um, the sphere, I think you call it. Your favorite color and a simple empty landscape, nothing hidden and no distractions for us.”


“Wow, you got this all from my mind?”


“Yes, all but my own appearance, which is true, and also unhidden.”


Um, yeah, I see that.” I stammer out.  She is just a few inches taller than me, and probably could be best described as voluptuous. In any other circumstance, she’d be a totally desirable woman, but these are not normal circumstances by any stretch.


“Would you prefer to be unhidden as well?”  But before I can answer, my clothes are gone. I am naked as the day I was born, and I had not one second to think about it.  Instinctually moving my hands to cover my crotch, I think I must look ridiculous now.


“Would you prefer your coverings to be returned?”

“Um, well, no I suppose not. It only seems fair I guess, I mean you’re not covered and all.” More stammering, but at least I’m not lying, I actually did feel like it was fair, and puts us on even footing.


“You have many questions, I feel them swirling in you like a storm. Please allow me to begin to answer them for you.”


Clearly she has some kind of ESP skills, because up to this point I had asked no questions at all. We stood about five feet apart, facing each other. The main difference being that her hands are at her sides, and I’m still covering.


In some other circumstance I’m almost sure I’d have found this funny.  She was right about the questions and the storm part too. I don’t think I could have put the questions I have in any kind of order of importance if I had to. Still, it isn’t from fear as much as it is just the absurdity of the situation. She actually has quite a calming presence, and an unusually soothing voice too.


“The sphere is a conduit, not a meteor, ship or capsule as you were first thinking. Your atmosphere was thicker than I had planned on, so it was an unfortunate landing for it.” 

That was an understatement.

“Hey, wait… You meant that to land in my yard?”


“Yes, but not nearly like that. I am sorry for the damage it caused. It was supposed to land gently and summon you with the light. I had no intention of traumatizing you or your friends, I fear I have complicated matters now.”


“Oh, I don’t know if anything’s complicated yet, but it sure was a show. I’m pretty sure Quincy and Brinn have got to be curious about where I just disappeared to.”


“No need to worry about them, they still see you at the sphere, just as you were when you touched it. For them, time is frozen, and you are not any different to them.”


“So, then this is not real? It’s like a dream or something?”

“You can think of it like that, but it’s more like a pocket in time. We just stepped in to it for a bit. The sphere helped with this. It does many things to help me.” Her voice trails off as if she got lost in thought suddenly.

“But, as I said I know you have many question, so I will endeavor to answer as best I can. You can call me Avital for the ease of conversation. It sounds very close to my actual name, in fact, this sound is very pleasing to me.

I am from a very distant system outside of your galaxy. I am both here with you, and also not. Like you, part of me remains on my world, safe and frozen in time. We can meet here for as long as we wish to, and nothing changes back on our respective home worlds.”

As she’s speaking about the details of this “pocket in time” I can feel myself drifting in thought for some reason. Maybe it’s her voice, I don’t know, but I think a bunch of it went over my head anyway. I snap back when I hear my name being said.

“Lenny? I’m sorry if that was a complicated explanation, I felt as if I lost you for a moment. I will try to keep my answers a bit shorter.”

She continues “I know you are wondering why I chose you, of all the people on your world, to contact and bring here. The answer to that might be even more complicated than my last answer, so I will say this; you are the most receptive mind I have encountered in a very long time of searching.”

“So, you’ve been looking for someone to talk to for a long time? I can’t even guess how you would have come across me in a search like that.”  Attempting to be a little funny, but I can tell that she doesn’t get it.

“No Lenny, not just someone to talk to, but someone to really communicate with. Someone whose mind and spirit operates in a certain way, and is open to the complex energies that are making this work. Also, someone whose mind is emotionally open like yours is. You may not know it, but it’s your emotions and internal energies that are helping to make this happen Lenny. You are half of this process even if you don’t realize it.”

She’s right I don’t realize it. I don’t actually feel like I’m doing anything at all, no concentration, no meditative state, no effort I can detect at all. To me, this is all just kind of happening, like any dream might happen. But, she’s the expert here, and if she says I’m helping make this happen, I choose to believe her.

“I know you very much want to know the reason behind my contacting you like this. Let me explain; after I discovered you, or your energy here, I knew I’d be able to make this happen, and just in time too. Lenny, my world is dying. My home planet will be gone in a very short time, and I am reaching out for help.”

As she continues I can’t help but notice that the patterns on her skin are changing with increasing speed. It looks like a film I once saw about Jupiter, and its bands of clouds moving in opposite directions.

“What kind of help could I possibly provide to you? I mean, clearly you’re way more advanced than we are, just what you’re doing right now is proof of that.”

“Lenny, you can help save me, and in turn I may be able to save a few others once I am safe. It’s probably too complicated to explain it all right now, but if you agree to what I propose, we will have time to talk about it later.”

“Okay, um, I need a minute to think about this. Wow. I mean, what does this consist of me doing? I wonder if it’s against the law even? I mean, I definitely want to help you, or save you, or um… ugh, I can’t think.”

“Calm down Lenny, I can feel your pulse racing, and your mind is a blur to me. It’s going to be alright, it’s not complicated, and the only risk is to me really.”

“Risk?! There’s risk? What kind of risk? Could someone die or something?”

“Truthfully Lenny, if what I wish us to attempt does not succeed then there is a possibility of death; my death.”

“Oh God, I don’t want that to happen, really. I mean I barely know you, but I like you, and I sure don’t want anything to happen to you. What do you need me to do?”

“Well, first Lenny, you’re going to have to be the very best salesman you can possibly be.”

“What? Sales? Me?”

“Yes, and I can promise you it will be very difficult too. You are going to need to enlist the help of your two friends. I need three of you to be at the sphere to have this be successful. It needs three minds, and their energy to activate the sphere’s controls.”

“Oh crap. I don’t know Avital, um, Brinn and Quincy are pretty freaked out right now. And, I don’t even know if they’d believe me if I tell them every single thing we’ve said here. Quincy is kind of a disbeliever when it comes to stuff like this, he’s a pretty religious dude and not likely to suddenly believe in aliens contacting me.”

“I know Lenny, that is why it is going to be so hard for you, and so very important that you are able to convince them. You will have to employ all of your best qualities to make them believe you. Just be honest, and sincere and I think they will come to see that you are not either joking, or mad.”

“But one more thing, you said that they are like frozen in time right? So, they saw me touch the sphere, and then, I’m guessing that once you, um, put me back; they’re going to think I touched it and just suddenly stepped back right?”

“Yes, you are correct. For them, almost no time will have passed. I will seem as if you touched the sphere and received a vision from it. You may be able to use that to your advantage Lenny.”

“Well, I can promise you that I’m going to do my absolute best. I won’t let you down. But, let’s say I convince them to help me, then what?”

“The next part will seem relatively simple after getting your friends to help us. The three of you will need to gather close to the sphere, and place your hands on it. Once you do that, you will be in charge of what happens there. You and your mind will be leading the other two, and showing them the way. You will see the sphere here on my world, and you will see me next to it. Once you’ve focused on my sphere, a connection will begin to be made. You and your two friends will need to concentrate your mind’s energies on that connection. You will feed it energy, and you will direct that energy back to your sphere.”

“Oh, wow, is that all? No sweat.”

“Lenny, I detect insincerity in your voice. Are you being untruthful with me?”

“No, I’m sorry. I was being a little sarcastic because it all seems totally overwhelming to me. I’m sorry. I’ll get a better attitude from now on.”

“I understand Lenny, please believe me I do. I thought about this day for many cycles now, and I did try to imagine the feelings and complications you might encounter. I realize that this is not only extraordinary to you, but it may also not even seem real to you. You have to trust me that this is all real, and that actual lives are at stake.”

As she is finishing her sentence she reaches out and takes one of my hands into hers. I didn’t even realize that in all this crazy conversation, I had ‘uncovered’ myself, and my hands had dropped to my sides. Her hand feels warm and soft in mine and I wasn’t expecting that for some reason. Her skin feels just as soft as any I’ve ever felt. Maybe even softer.

“Well Avital, I do trust you. Even though this is all completely outside of anything I have ever experienced, or even fantasized about, I still believe in you. I guess I am ready to go back, and do everything I can do to help you out. I can’t honestly promise you that I’m going to save you, but at least I can promise that I’ll do everything in my power to try.”

“You must realize this; once you return to your time, and we step out of this pocket, I will not be able to recreate this. You will be on your own to fulfill your part. Have I answered all of the questions you have for me?”

“I’m sure I haven’t even hardly scratched the surface of the questions I have but, the rest can wait until I see you here…err, or there, or well, you know. When you’re really in front of me, on Earth. I am pretty sure I know what I need to do to get you there too.”

She still has a hold of my hand, so I just naturally pull her in for a hug. I was not really thinking that through; I mean she wasn’t resisting it or anything, in fact she came right to me, and it’s a great warm hug. Very warm. And, she’s making this kind of purring noise too. I, um, kinda start to feel myself respond to that feel and sound too. I decide to back away quickly before my developing situation gets any more obvious.

“Okay, well, like I said, I am going to do everything in my power to make this work, and get you safe. So, I’ll see you soon Avital. Don’t you worry too much, okay?”

“I do not worry too much, Lenny. I have faith in you, I feel you will succeed in this. I have so many good feelings Lenny. But, as you said, we will speak at length once I am with you. I will project my most positive energies towards you Lenny, to help ensure a good outcome.”

“Sure, I mean, if that was your way of saying ‘good luck’ then I am all for it, and same here.”

Suddenly I am pulling my hand away from the sphere, and listening to Quincy, once again, ask if I was nuts.

“Lenny! Get away from that damn thing man.”

Brinn is pulling on my shirt to move me back from the sphere, and I stumble back into her.

“I’m fine, I’m totally fine.” I say

“Well just get back here by us and we’ll all feel fine together okay?” she says to me.

“Damn Lenny, I just have a bad feeling about that thing and I think we should get the cops here before it does some weird space shit.” Quincy is clearly rattled by this whole thing.

“No no no, just relax Quincy, you too Brinn. Just give me a minute to sort this out. It’s not all like it seems here, I mean, not what you think. Ugh, this isn’t coming out right.”

“Take a breath Lenny, maybe you were zapped by that ball-thing there. Just take a sec and gather yourself. Maybe Quincy is right and we should get some cops here?”

“No, please don’t do that. I’m fine, all right? I am just trying to figure out how to tell you what is happening. I know that sounds kinda crazy, or mysterious or whatever, but I really don’t mean it to.

“You guys know me, and you trust me right?”

Since they are both nodding their heads, I feel safe to go on.

“This is going to sound so nuts, but you’ve got to hear me out, no matter how crazy I sound, okay?”

Again, both nodding to me.

“When I touched that sphere, well, I know to you it looked like I touched it for a sec and then pulled away from it, but that’s not what really happened. And, here we have the crazy part…”

“Lenny, maybe that thing did zap you man, you don’t sound like the normal Lenny I know. You even look kind of shook up man.”

“Just bear with me Quincy, and hold off on judging until I am done okay? It’s gonna sound wild, but I am dead serious and not making this up. I wasn’t zapped or anything like that. But, I was taken away for a little while.”

“Lenny, you know I’m not as skeptical as Quincy, but I was here, and I saw with my own eyes that you were also here this whole time. You didn’t go anywhere Lenny.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I chose my words poorly, I didn’t physically leave, but in a way I kinda did too. You guys were um, frozen in time for a while. I saw you for a few seconds all stopped like a movies that was paused. But, then suddenly I was somewhere else completely. Like it wasn’t even Earth. It was, um, well, I don’t know exactly where I was. All I know is that it sure wasn’t here, or anywhere near here.”

“Well Lenny, you were right about the crazy part, because this is really starting to sound pretty bizarre, my friend.”

“Hey, I asked you to be patient Quincy, please man, just listen okay?”

He was looking exasperated, but I could tell he was going to listen now. In fact he backed up to the edge of the trench and sat down. Brinn was still right by me like she thought I was going to fall down or something, but that’s okay. She’s listening at least.

“Look, you don’t have to totally understand this, and I’m not even sure I do, but I believe what just happened to me. As soon as I touched that sphere I was taken to a place I won’t even bother describing. Just know that it wasn’t here, and you guys were kinda frozen in time for a little while. I met this, um, woman there. But not like a regular women, kind of more like an alien woman.”

Both of them looked like I was an alien suddenly. But to their credit, they weren’t saying anything, or arguing.

“Her name is Avital, and she’s from some other world that’s fantastically far away. She’s the one who sent this sphere here, to contact me. How weird is that?”

“Brinn, I think we may need to get an ambulance too, along with the cops. He’s delusional now, that can’t be a good sign.”

“Stop it Quincy, we said we’d listen, so lets do that. Go on Lenny.”

“Well, so anyway, Avital told me that there’s something happening to her world, and it sounds really bad. She sent this thing to contact me because She said I have some kind of ‘mind energy’ that she picked up on. I still don’t know what she means by that, but I’d say the sphere being here pretty much says she’s telling the truth.”

“She said that I, or um, actually we, can help save her by using this thing. She asked me to do everything I could to convince you guys to help. I guess it takes all three of us to make it do something. She said I’d know once we all touched it. Now I know this sounds crazy, and even I don’t have all the info I’d like to have, but her situation sounds pretty desperate, and I don’t think we can wait long. I really need you guys to help me. Please.”

Nervous glances back and forth between them, fidgeting and finally some words. “Lenny, even if we believe what happened to you, in what looked like a millisecond to us, we still have no idea what that thing does. I mean what if it’s a bomb, or a beacon to bring alien invaders here? All I’m saying is we just don’t know.”

“I hate saying this Lenny, but Quincy’s kind of right. We don’t know. And you’re asking us to take a leap of faith and go along with something that you can barely describe yourself. I mean, what if it is something bad?”

“Oh man, I get the feeling we don’t have a lot of time to argue this out guys, but I hear where you’re coming from, and had it been one of you that touched that, and then had a crazy story, well… I just don’t know. I think I’d trust you though. You’re my friends, and in my mind that’s what counts. If it’s something bad, well, then we’re in it together at least. I know it’s asking a lot, more than a lot, I’m asking you to make a leap of faith. I realize that, but I have to do this.”

I don’t know if it’s how I said that, or the look on my face, or divine intervention, but I saw both their faces change almost at the same time.

“I can’t speak for Quincy, but I’m in Lenny. You’re my friend too, and I truly believe that you’d do the same for me, anytime.”

Quincy breaks out in a big laugh suddenly. “I’m in too my friend. I guess I was just waiting to hear what Brinn was going to say, but she just said it all. You’re right about another thing too, at least we’re in it together, for better or worse. So, what do we have to do to save Avital the alien?”

The smiles all around feel really good, and I believe we can really do this now. Well, whatever ‘this’ turns out to be.

“Alright, well, like I said, she wasn’t full of details about this. She said once we got together on the sphere, I’d be leading us, and I’d know what to do. It’s supposed to connect to a sphere on her world somehow, and we’re going to help it. So, I guess we just have to get around it, and put our hands on it and see.”

The sphere was actually looking a bit brighter now, still a peach color, but bright now. As we move around it, the colors seem to move inside it a little. Maybe I am imagining that, but I don’t think so.

“Alright you guys, this is it. Let’s put our hands on it at the same time. I don’t want to get whisked away all alone again, okay?”

Looking in to each other’s eyes, we start to lower our hands in unison. Just as I feel the smooth surface of the sphere, a vision opens up before me. Just like an invisible television screen suddenly come on! I can see both Brinn and Quincy in front of me, but what I can see behind them is almost indescribable.

We’re in space. We’re moving through space, past planets, asteroids, then galaxies, and things I don’t even have names for. Long gray trails of what looks like fog just underneath us, like an extra-solar highway we’re following.

“Um, can you guys see all of this?”

I can see that Quincy isn’t going to say anything at all, his eyes say all I need to know.

“Oh Lenny, it’s so beautiful, so amazing… I can’t…”

Brinn’s voice trails off, but I understand her completely. Actually I feel like I can sense what she’s feeling right now too. As if we’re more connected by this sphere than we know. She’s right, it is so beautiful out here, seeing things no other person has ever seen. Well, no one from Earth anyway.

As we ‘move’ along this galactic highway, I suddenly see another one that almost paralleled to us. But, it’s brighter than the one we we’re following. I think maybe it’s a sign I should be on that one. As soon as that thought occurs to me, we are on it.

I had navigated us there just by thinking that it’s where I want to be. This is so amazing. I recall Avital saying I’d know what to do once we got the sphere going, and I think she’s right. I feel like I can see where we need to go, and I have the ability to make it happen now.

Suddenly, we’re heading right towards a big peach colored sun, right in front of us. It looks huge, much bigger than the one I know. Then, I see it, her world, and I ‘turn’ us to it. In the blink of an eye we’re on the planet, right next to her sphere. Right next to Avital herself, and she’s smiling at us.

“Lenny! It is so very pleasing to see you again! And, your friends as well.” Quincy still wasn’t ready to make words, but he manages a smile. Brinn smiles and nods to Avital, but also doesn’t say a word.

“It’s good to see you again too Avital. I wasn’t sure what I was doing at first, but I got the hang of it pretty quick.”

“Yes Lenny, I could see your journey through my sphere, and I think you did a fine job of navigating. But, now will come a much harder part, yet I know you will succeed at it just as well.”

“Okay, so what do we do?”

“I am going to concentrate my essence into the sphere Lenny, it’s how I am going to get to where you really are. But the return trip will take the concentration of all three of you. Carrying my life energy will drain the sphere, and you will be not only navigating, but giving energy to the sphere too.”

“How do we do that?

“Once again, all I can say is that you will all know as the need arises. What I have not said yet is that in doing this, it will tax your energy as well. You mustn’t over tax yourselves, for it can be dangerous. You might begin to feel tired, or even sleepy. If you do, you must stop giving energy to the sphere. Watch the color and brightness of the sphere, it will be your indicator of its energy level.”

“Hang on, what if the sphere fades, and we’re all getting tired, I mean what happens?”

“If that happens Lenny, the three of you will find yourselves back on your planet, right where you last touched the sphere. You may be lying on the ground sleeping, or even in a coma state if you drain yourself too much. As for me, I will no longer exist. The sphere will no longer exist, and your life will go on.”

“I’m not going to let that happen, okay? None of us will. We’ll do everything we can to make this work. So, when do we start the return trip?”

“We can begin immediately. I need just a moment to prepare myself. You will know when it’s time to go. I hope to see you again very soon Lenny.”

As I’m about to answer, I see her begin to, well, shimmer. The patterns on her skin begin to swirl faster and faster, then they seem to emit light in a rainbow of colors. The light starts to surround her whole body in this amazing color tornado. It looks like she levitating a little bit, then she’s gone, in a blink.

“Alright guys, let’s get her, and us, back home shall we?”

With that single thought, we’re off into space again. But, something is different feeling about this, she was right, it feels like it’s taking an effort from me to get us moving. Just to get back to that ‘highway’ we were on earlier is an effort. I see it, just off in the distance, but I feel like I am steering us with my whole body now. Quincy and Brinn are smiling in approval, and their apparent confidence in me gives me a little boost. With a heft to my right, I get us on the pathway leading home.

Keeping one eye on the pathway, and another on the sphere, I notice that it doesn’t glow as brightly as it did on our way to Avital’s world. But, Quincy and Brinn both look happy and determined, so I decided not to worry, and just do my part.

I’m not sure if it’s just my imagination, but it also feels like we’re not travelling as fast as we were on the way here. For lack of a better idea, I lean in to it, like if I were riding a motorcycle. I feel us speed up a little bit, and this is good.

I see that the sphere is looking slightly dimmer, and I see that Brinn has noticed too. She gets a look of concentration on her face, like someone straining to lift something heavy. She looks right down at the sphere, and almost touches her forehead to it. Right then the sphere begins to brighten up, and we move a little faster too. Now we’re on to something.

“Quincy, see if you can do what Brinn is doing, she sped us up by giving energy to the sphere, and I really believe that we need to go faster.” I just have a sinking feeling that time really is of the essence now. We need to get home before this ride slows down, or we run out of energy.

Quincy does the same thing Brinn is doing, with closed eyes and leaning down to the sphere. I swear I can see a faint light between their foreheads and the sphere. I can see the energy moving between them.

The sphere accelerates to the speed we came here with, and I know we’re coming to that place where I need to move from this pathway to the one that leads back to home. I’m concentrating on the surroundings, now passing by so fast, and then I see it. It’s actually glowing a little brighter this time, I think it’s a cosmic map-hint of some kind. Like it knows where we’re going, and saying ‘come this way!’

I use all of my strength and body English to move us onto the new path. I swear I just felt a bump as we switch, but it doesn’t’ see possible. Now on the right pathway home, I suddenly see that Brinn looks almost asleep, and Quincy looks pretty tired too.

“Brinn, wake up! We need you, we’re not home yet. Quincy, can you get her to wake up?”

Quincy looks up at me with tired eyes; I can hardly hear his voice as he speaks.

“I can’t Lenny, I think she gave everything she had. She’s drained, and I’m not far behind her. I had to back off a little bit or I’d be drained too. This seems to take a lot of energy, and I’m not sure I have much more to give man.”

“It’s alright Quincy, I think we’re going to be okay, we’re on the last leg of this trip, and maybe it’s downhill.” I say with a smile, trying to bolster his confidence.

But, once again I can see the sphere is dimming a little, and we’re slowing some too. I am not a actual navigator, and without this pathway I would never find Earth again. It’s a sudden and scary thought, and I try to put it out of my mind. We can make it, I really feel we can, I just need to concentrate.

The dimming sphere is looking urgent though, so I ask Quincy “Can you give it just a little more Quincy? I think we’re almost home, but it’s not looking good right now for Avital.”

Quincy nods and lowers his forehead to the sphere again, and again I see the faint flow of the energy from his mind to it. The color of the sphere is darker now, but the energy Quincy is giving it seems to move us a little faster at least.

Then I see him go limp, and I know he’s given it his all. He’s tapped out like Brinn, and probably somewhere between asleep and unconscious. I still don’t know how much farther we have to go, but my confidence is waning a little. When Quincy folded, we slowed down a little more. The sphere dimmed just a little bit more right then too.

I knew it was up to me now. I am suddenly scared that Avital’s life is in my hands, and I’m the only one who can get us home safely. I decide to see if I can add energy to the sphere, like Brinn and Q did. I lean down a little bit, and close my eyes.

“Lenny, I feel you.” I suddenly hear Avital’s voice in my head. “Lenny, don’t put yourself and your friends in danger. You have the option of pulling your hands off the sphere if you want to. I didn’t tell you this earlier and I’m sorry. I was being selfish, I guess. But now we’re all in danger, and I cannot have the three of you damage yourselves for me. Let go of the sphere Lenny, just let go. You’ll be back home and safe.”

“No! I won’t do that Avital. I won’t abandon you. You’ll die if I give up, and I am not going to let that happen. When you took my hand, when we were in the pocket of time, I felt something I have never felt before. It was like you were part of me. Like I’ve been missing something all this time and I didn’t know it until you touched me. Now…”

I am suddenly overcome with emotion, and even though I am not actually speaking, I still have a hard time telling her.

“I feel like I… need you now. Like my life needs you in it to be complete, and I am not going to just give up the chance to have that. Not when I’ve just found this feeling, and just found you too. I’ve got to make this work, I have got to make this happen.”

Tears are streaming down my face, and dripping on to the sphere and I see that each place a tear hits, the sphere brightens there. I can still feel Avital in my mind, and I focus on her, on her face and her words. I drop my forehead on to the sphere, but instead of feeling a thud, like I was expecting, it feels soft and warm. I don’t know why, but that feeling just triggers something inside me, and I cry out.

“We’ve got to make it!” and then all is black.

I feel myself lying on my back. I hear a voice, faint but I hear it. “Lenny… Lenny we made it, you did it.” It’s Avital bringing me back to my senses.

I sit up and see her kneeling right in front of me, and Brinn and Quincy are right there too. All of them are looking at me and smiling. They all look fine too, actually better than fine, they look kind of radiant.

“Damn Lenny, you pulled us through my friend. I thought we were done for, but your last charge of energy to the sphere pushed us here in a flash of light! I wasn’t even tired anymore when I realized we made it.”

“Yeah Lenny, you made the difference. I was completely drained, and just barely conscious, but when we appeared back here, I felt recharged and awake.”

“Wow, I don’t even remember what I did. I felt you talk to me Avital, and I kind of remember telling you some things, but then it gets kind of blurry.”

Avital helps me stand up, and she holds on to my hands, and as she does so, I begin to remember everything I said, and more important, everything I had felt too.

“Lenny, it was your soul’s connection to me that saved us all. Your pure heart and true emotions that burst out in an energy release I have never seen before. Your feelings, and your mind’s energy are so much more that I first thought.”

“I remember now, I really do. I was telling you I couldn’t lose you after just finding you, and right then I realized something. I realized I loved you, and I don’t even know how it’s possible, but I’d never lie to myself about my own feelings. Love was what just popped into my head, and it felt huge, and so overwhelming, but really good too. I have never felt this way before either. You are like a missing piece of my life, and now, here you are!”

I lean in and kiss her right then and there. She seems a little surprised, and a little awkward at first, but suddenly I feel her kiss back with passion. The colors on her skin start to swirl, almost like they did right before we left her planet. I think it’s a good thing.

 “Oh, Avital, what about your other people still on your world?” I ask her.

 “We now hove two spheres here, Lenny, so we can use them like a homing beacon and we will not have to make the trip ourselves. My people can transport here using their own energy now.”

“How many people are on your world? I don’t have a very big house.” I say smiling at her. I’m kidding around, but I kinda sense that they don’t do that much from where she’s from.

“Sadly, Lenny, there are only a very small number of us left there. Many chose other places to travel to, places that were closer and required much less energy. I will use the sphere to contact the few that may still be there, but it may only be two, or three.”

“Well, that’s not many, I am sure between Quincy, Brinn and me we can handle them staying with us. Are you guys cool with that?” Both were nodding in agreement. Soon we’d have our own secret alien colony, and how amazing is that? 

The Stable Hand

Many centuries ago, in a land overseen by a benevolent Queen, lived a simple stable hand. He worked at the Royal Stables, and he was very good at his job – in fact none were ever better. He took great pride in his work, and always gave his very best. He felt that doing anything less than his best effort was cheating his employer of their money.

He wasn’t particularly handsome, or muscular, but he was quite pleasant looking to all who knew him. While he worked, he would spend his days daydreaming about what he would rather be doing. His great dream was to become the Queen’s court poet. It would be so wonderful to recite his best writings to the courtiers and the Queen. But, it was just a dream. He had no idea how he could ever get the Queen to read, or even hear one of his poems. She lived in the great palace, and he was not allowed there.

One day, after his work in the stable was done, he decided to practice his readings in front of the animals he loved so much. He liked reciting to them because they never complained or criticized his work. After one of his romantic poems, he suddenly heard a very deep voice say “That was wonderful, the Queen would love that.” He looked around in dismay, and saw that no one else was there. As he looked about, he noticed the Queen’s stallion looking straight at him. “Did you say that steed?”

“Yes, your poem was quite wonderful.” came the response. Bewildered, but believing, he asked “You said the Queen would like it… is that true?”

“Yes, I am sure of it. She loves romance and anything associated with it.” Said the steed.

“Do you think you could get her to read one?” The hand asked. “I’d love to be the court poet someday, but I do not know how I would ever get the Queen to see or hear one. But, with your help, maybe it would be possible.”

The steed considered this request for many minutes, and then answered “Why yes, I would be honored to help you. You’re an honest and true man, and the court has too few of those. The current court poet is a terrible man, and his writings make my mane crawl.”  The stable hand was beside himself with joy. Finally he had a chance to get a poem to the Queen, and to have her see his work and just possibly, achieve a dream.

He cautioned himself to not let his hopes rise too high. So many different things could go wrong, the worst of which was, what if she did not like his poem? The horse, seeing the distress on the face of the stable hand, spoke up “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself on this, everything will turn out the way it should, just give it time.”

“Really?” He asked

“Yes, I’m sure of it. Now, let’s get to choosing which poem you want to give her. It’s important we chose the right one.” The horse said calmly.

It was just the reassurance he needed. They got right to work looking through his best writings, and separating out the very best ones. Then he’d read them aloud to the horse, and await his reactions.  The horse had very good taste in poetry, so their task went quickly. When they had finally decided on the right one, it was a short, but very romantic poem – straight from his heart. The horse knew this would appeal to the Queen, who was very fond of romantic verse. The current court poet mostly wrote about great battles and hard-won victories. These bored the Queen, but he never seemed to notice that. A romantic poem was sure to catch her attention, they both thought. Then, maybe she would ask to see its author, and finally his dream might just begin.

Several days passed without the Queen summoning her steed. The stable hand was beginning to get worried that their plan might not work out. The horse reassured him that everything was fine. It was not uncommon for the Queen to be very busy, and not have time for riding. But, he knew she would be calling soon. She loved riding, the wind in her hair, the smell of the fresh country air were all elixir to her soul. They were the remedies for too much time spent in the stuff old palace.

Finally, after five long days, the call came down that the Queen wished for her mount to be readied for a ride. They were both excited, and as the hand began getting the steed ready, they finalized their plan.

“How should we give it to her?” he asked the horse.  “Do you think you can give it over to her?”

“No” The horse said, “I can’t be the one; she doesn’t know of me like you do, she believes me to be a common steed, only you know my truth.”

“But, what will we do, I can’t get near her, the guards make me leave as soon as she arrives.”

“Don’t worry my friend.” The horse said to him. “I have an idea. Fold your poem up and place it just under the front of the saddle, below the horn. Make sure it sticks out a bit, and she will surely notice it.”

The stable hand did as he was instructed, and placed the parchment exactly where the horse said to. He hoped with all his heart that she would see it, and read it. If she did just that much, he felt he had a chance. He was standing on the very edge of a dream now, no turning back. This was his chance to reach what he knew was his destiny.

As the horse was now ready, the Queen’s guards made the stable hand step out of the area and into a empty stall. He’d become used to the routine, but this time it stung him more dearly. As door to the stall was closed on him, he moved his face close to the edge of the door, checking to see if he had a view of her. He could just make out the rear of the horse, but nothing else. His heart sank a bit.

Then he heard the clomp of hooves on the stone floor, getting louder, coming his way. She didn’t usually exit the stables this direction, but today she was. Seconds later she rode past him, he could see her well through the crack in the door. She was so beautiful, up on her steed, raven black hair flowing in the soft breeze that cuts through the stable. Her bangs neatly trimmed above her eyebrows, and those deep brown eyes that held every image they saw in soft consideration. She wore a purple blouse, and black trousers, with a golden belt. She was a vision he savored like the taste of ripe summer fruit. She rode out of his sight, and now, even with his soaring heart singing to him, he still felt nervous when he let himself think about her finding the note. What would she do? What if she hated it? Worse yet, what if she missed it entirely? Oh, he knew he’d be sick if, when he was grooming the horse after her ride, he found the note still there where he’d put it.

Out in the green meadows of the countryside, she rode swift and far. She loved the wind in her hair, and the smell of the trees and grass. With a gentle prompt she urged the horse over a fence or two with majestic jumps. She was in her bliss. After some time, she knew her mount needed a rest, so she headed for a small glade. Apple trees and green grass, sun and a breeze – a perfect place to stop. As she dismounted she noticed something under the front edge of the saddle, a small parchment. She held the steed steady, and removed it carefully. Curiosity was suddenly overtaking her, and she unfolded it to see it was a poem.

It was a romantic poem, of great sensitivity and depth, honest and heartfelt to be sure. It was a true heart’s pouring, and it moved her greatly. She read it, and re-read it several times. She could not help but wonder if it was written for her, but how could that be? And who could have written it? Certainly this was not the work of the court poet, his ramblings were as dry as his humor was. He knew nothing of this level of feeling, or this idea of love. No, this was someone she did not know, but she would find out. She knew she had to, she would not be able to rest until she knew this man, until she could look into his eyes and see what was truly there.

As she reread the poem one more time, she heard a voice ask “So, do you like it?” She spun around, but no one was there. There wasn’t another soul to be seen anywhere. Was she going mad she wondered?

Just then though, she noticed her steed had taken a few steps towards her. He was looking right at her, right in to her eyes. But… Before she could think any further the horse asked again “Do you like it?” This time there was no doubt, that horse had spoken! Spoken to her, as any human would. She felt dizzy and confused suddenly. Horses just simply did not talk, yet he had. “I.. I did like it.” she said haltingly.

“I liked it very much actually. But how is it that you are asking me steed? Is this some trick, or black magic?” The horse tried to manage a smile, as best a horse could, and whinnied as a laugh. “No ma’am, no magic, just me. I could not remain silent any longer. The question was burning me up.” She approached him and still in disbelief, she continued, “Why are you so curious good steed? Was it you who wrote this poem of romance?” Another whinny escaped him, “No, certainly not. I’m just a horse, we rarely compose romantic verse. No, it was a good friend of mine who wrote that, and I just wanted to know if it pleased you.”

“Tell me steed, tell me of this friend of yours please. For now I am greatly curious as well. I very much desire to know the kind of man who can write with such feeling and grace. Who can pour out the contents of his heart with such conviction.” The horse had not anticipated this question, truthfully he had spoken without thinking at all, and now he was in a predicament. He truly did not want to reveal the identity of his friend, but she was the queen, how could he lie to her? He hung his head low.

She noticed this behavior immediately, “You do not want to tell me do you? You do not want to break a trust with someone dear to you. I understand that better than you may think. I won’t command you to tell me who it is, but, we should go back now, I have a poet to find.” The horse was so pleased that she honored his wish not to tell her, he thought her nobler that ever. As she mounted up, he turned and said to her “Though I won’t tell you, I will say this, do not overlook anyone. No matter their station in life, or their manner or dress. I believe that when you look at this man, you will see what you need to know right in his eyes.” She smiled, “I agree steed, I very much agree!” And with that, they raced back to the royal stables on a mission.

As the horse and queen arrived back at the stables well ahead of her usual return time, the guards had left to return to their usual posts. The stable hand, of course, heard the approaching hoof beats and came out to see what was going on. “You there!” the queen said. The stable had felt a sudden queasiness in his stomach. He’d never been directly addressed before by her, this was all so different than he had imagined it would be. “Yes m’lady, er, Your Highness, Ma’am…” he sputtered out in answer.

“Stableman, hold my mount, but do not put him away.” she said as she easily dismounted the steed. She was right before him now. He could see into her eyes, he could smell her perfume, and it made him dizzy with delight. “Yes your Majesty, I will hold him.” The queen considered this for a moment, then said “Well, better if you lead him along with me, I have some business to attend to, and this steed needs to be with me, so come along with me please.” He looked right at the horse, and almost didn’t believe it when he saw the steed wink an eye at him. He took this as a good sign…

The queen did not seem to be angry, or even upset. No, she seemed to be very determined, her voice, her pace, all on a mission. They walked briskly up the stone street that led to the palace. He wasn’t sure how far she’d let him follow, but he was keeping quiet for now. He got the feeling from the horse that he should just play along with what was happening.

As they approached the palace main gate, guards scrambled at the unexpected sight of the queen coming their way. All got to their stations quickly, and snapped to attention. The lead guard approached, “Your Majesty, I apologize for…” The queen waved her hand to silence him, not rudely, but as to let him know she had more pressing matters. “Worry not, I came back suddenly, and I have business with someone of the court. Please call the courtiers as soon as possible, I want to see them all.” She said calmly. “Yes, your Majesty, right away. Do you want me to send this stable hand and horse back where they belong?” He asked.

The queen’s face reddened, and in her response to the guard, both stable hand and horse did now hear her in her temper. “You’ll do no such thing unless you’d like to be re-stationed outside the gates! Just do as I asked, nothing more.” She said with pointed exclamation. The guard made a poor salute and ran off to do as instructed.

She entered the main courtyard and started up the palace steps that led up to the large doors of the great room. The stable hand paused, and held the horse back for a moment. “You Majesty, um, do you really want us to follow you into there?” The queen stopped, and returned to stand in front of her two new friends. “Yes, of course, my good man. You and this steed will go anywhere I go. Do not hesitate, you are with me now, no one else will question you, or why you’re here. Don’t worry further.”  With that, she took his hand and led them both up the steps and in to the Palace’s great room.

Her lead guard had done as she instructed and gathered the courtiers into the great room. Several dozen people were milling about and talking in a loud and indiscernible murmur. Some were dressed in fine clothing, fit for an audience with the queen, but others were in their evening clothes – apparently caught off-guard by the summoning to the court.

The Queen and her new escort entered the room, heads held high, and walked up the center isle. As she approached the dais where she usually sat, she gestured for the stable hand and horse to flank her to her left. She, however, did not sit down. Standing and facing her quite curious courtiers, she looked them over, one by one.

“Today, an extraordinary thing happened to me.” She said loudly enough for everyone to hear. “I was on a ride into the countryside when I discovered something truly wonderful.” The stable hand glanced at the horse, who suddenly appeared concerned that the queen was going to tell the world his secret. If a horse could actually look nervous, the hand thought this one sure did.

The queen went on “I discovered a lovely hand written love poem, just under the edge of my saddle. It was quite a surprise for me.” Both horse and hand breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “I have read this poem several times now, and it makes my heart soar skyward each time. But, the poem is unsigned, sadly. I know not who the author is. So, this is why I have asked you to assemble here this evening. Because I want to find this author, and look him in the eyes, and give him my response.”

“I know many of you may think me suddenly mad, but these words have sparked something in me that had lain dormant for a very long time. I must, at the very least, express my gratitude to this author.”

As she was speaking, the stable hand spotted the court’s poet standing off behind the front row of people. He looked as if he thought the queen was going to call upon him at any moment. A large smile, and straightening posture indicated that he was ready to step forward and claim ownership of this writing. Just then the queen spoke up again. “You may leave if you with Mr. Maloney, I quickly recognized that these were not your words, nor your handwriting. You needn’t worry that I will pick on you.” She smiled at him sweetly.

“But, let it be known that I am sure that the true author is standing in this room at this very moment. I shant embarrass anyone by asking for them to step up. No, I would rather use my own intuition to solve this mystery. For whom but I should be the one to begin to know the heart of this man? Such a love professed for me should imbue me with a sense of this person, so I cannot fail at my task.”

Then, most unexpectedly, she turned and looked right at the stable hand to her left, directly into his eyes. He was unable to move, or look away – her deep brown eyes held him captive completely.

“Please tell me your name my new friend?”  She asked him quietly.

“My name is Jonathan mi ‘lady.” He said, with some confidence behind it too.

“Well, Jonathan, you wrote this poem didn’t you?” She asked, smiling a genuine smile at him.

“Yes, yes I did indeed. I wrote it for you.” This he said even a bit louder. It was something about looking her right in the eye – it gave him a confidence that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He was speaking his heart’s truth to her and he wasn’t shy or ashamed.

“I knew it was you Jonathan, I felt it as soon as I returned to the stables. As soon as I looked at you, I knew these words were yours. Also, a good friend suggested that I not overlook anyone in my quest to find the hand that wrote these words.” She and Jonathan both glanced at the horse, who was also standing a bit more proudly.

“I’m no young maiden any longer Jonathan, but a mature woman now. I find myself wishing to be very direct with you, if you will not be offended.” She said as her gaze returned to his shining blue eyes.

“Please, mi’ lady, speak as you wish – I too am no boy, but a man, with a man’s feelings and sensibilities.” He replied respectfully

“I need to know something, and I am desiring your most honest answer Jonathan; Is this love poem a profession of an actual love for me?”

Without a blink of hesitation he answered her “Yes, from my hearts deepest recesses came this vision of love I’d been storing away for you. You may find me ridiculous because I have only seen you from afar in the past, but love does not dwell in logic, does it? It is not decided through calculations and formulas, but comes from the seat of our deepest feelings. From the first time I saw you, I felt quakes inside me, warmth of a thousand fires burning. The poem I wrote is a mere glimpse of the true emotions that flow from me, to the sea of you.”

All who were gathered there were suddenly silenced, not only by his honesty, but also the staggering depth of feeling on display before them. Not one single person spoke, or even made a noise. All eyes were on the queen now, as she was apparently considering Jonathan’s words. No one could predict her reaction to what he’d said. A stable hand, professing love for a queen, no matter how honest and true was still unheard of.

“Jonathan” She began in a very sincere tone. “In my lifetime I have seen and experienced many great and wonderful things. But, today I have been given the greatest gift of all. Your true love for me is both surprising and welcome. When I looked into your eyes just now, I saw such sincerity as I’ve never seen in my life. My heart has opened like a morning glory to the sun. And that sun is you, and your love Jonathan. Do not sit in wonder one more second, because I love you too.”

She reached out for him, and drew him close. He put his arms around her and their warm embrace turned into a passionate kiss. Slowly and progressively the courtiers began to clap and cheer. It rose like an orchestra beginning in concert. Even their mutual friend, the great steed was stomping his feet in approval.

The Argument

“Is everything you bought organic?” He asked, as he was helping unpack the hemp grocery bags.

“Yeah, I’m still making sure I don’t buy any genetically modified foods, so organic is the only safe stuff I can depend on.”

He noted a mild irritation in her voice when she answered him.

“Sure, uh, okay.” Now he was taking cover since he suspected he’d most likely triggered a small storm. (He was right.)

“Well, that was kind of a lame ‘okay’ from you. I do this for us you know. Don’t you want me to get healthy foods? Do you want the cheap freaky GMO stuff? Because I don’t, I really don’t.”

“Yeah hon, I know. I wasn’t saying anything against it.”

“Well, you could have fooled me. I saw your face, and could almost hear your eyes rolling when I mentioned GMO foods.” She was on a roll now and there was no place to hide. He’d seen this wind-up so many times before that he knew all the signs, all the signals. A gasket was about to be blown, and there was no way to stop it.

“I didn’t roll my eyes, I didn’t make a sound.” He said quietly.

“I can hear things in your voice you know, I am aware of when you’re mocking me. But that’s okay, if you want to be like that it’s fine with me. I just do what I think is best for us and I am not expecting a parade for it. I just thought you were behind this idea a little more than that.”

His better judgment told him not to respond, but he couldn’t stop himself, the words were already coming. “Look, I’m as concerned as anyone might be about GMO crap, and I don’t want to eat it either. I guess I just didn’t think that every single non-organic product was suddenly GMO laced.”

“Well, I ‘m not saying it is. But, the fact is we don’t really know, do we? So why take a chance on it then, right? And, furthermore, I don’t think you’re as concerned as anyone else, unless you’re speaking of people who aren’t really concerned. I think you just go with the flow, and nod your head a lot. I don’t think you really see what’s happening. You can’t see what this is going to do to our kids, or their kids!”

“Well, you’re right, I don’t know what it’s going to do to them, I don’t know what it’s doing to anybody. I’m not a scientist, I don’t read medical journals, so I don’t know. I just hear it from you, or see an occasional news story about it. I’m not on a crusade against the evil corporations that are going to screw up our food system like you think they are. I happen to think that for every evil corporation that’s messing with things like this, there’s good people, and good scientists that are working on unscrewing it!”

“Oh Christ, that’s so naïve David! Why would any scientists be working on un-modifying GMO foods? There’s no money in that, there’s no research grants for that. The money is in tweaking things they barely know about so they can save the corporations millions of dollars. So they can get ten stalks of Franken-wheat from one seed. That’s where the money is and that’s their motivation.”

“God, your view of the world is so negative. It’s like you think there’s sinister forces controlling everything, and we have no chance of escaping them. Well, I don’t buy it, I can’t believe in a world like that, where conspiracy lurks around every corner. I just don’t believe that’s how things are.”

“Okay Pollyanna, you keep telling yourself that, and in a few years we’ll see who’s right and who’s wrong. I know for a fact that people are motivated by money, and that’s about all that corporations care about is their bottom line. They don’t give a rat’s ass about us, or what their products do to us. They don’t care if we start dying from their GMO foods because they will already have our money. You think I’m being negative, but I am just being a realist. You’re the one with his head in the sand.”

“I am a positive person, and I’m not an idiot. I just don’t see things as negatively as you do. I tend to think that things will get figured out, that they’ll get better in time. It’s just how I am. But you label me as Pollyanna and Mr. Positive, and other names meant to demean me, just because I don’t see the world like you do. I believe there’s good people who do see the big picture and some have dedicated their lives to helping fix what’s been messed up already.

It doesn’t even make sense that big-agra would want to loose upon the world harmful products when their families probably eat the same stuff! Why would they knowingly produce foods that could kill their own families?”

“Because there’s no one-person at a corporation David. There’s no one single boss who has his little family working there with him. It’s a board of directors, and old men with fancy titles that are all paid way too much for what they do. And, there’s the stockholders who want to see a profit every single quarter. None of them give a shit about us individual people! They care about money and growth, and that’s it!”

“That’s so fucking dark Rachel, it’s like you take the smallest thing and blow it up to some uber-negative conclusion.”

“I do no such thing!” She screamed back at him.

“You sat there in bed, just after I read you that small paragraph about the genetic transfer thing and you said Well, we’re doomed then. Humans deserve to all die from what we’re doing to the foods. You said we all deserve to die! Everyone! Do you even remember me asking you if you were for real? Everyone around the world deserves to die because some corporations are fooling with the food? I’m still shocked.”

“Maybe I do think that sometimes, so what? Humans have fucked up this planet and for what? Always the same damn thing, money! If it makes a buck, then screw everybody and do it! That’s the business mantra, and has been for like two centuries. They’ll mow down the entire rainforest if they could make a buck selling chopsticks!”

“All I know is one simple story like that and you go into a negativity spiral that I can’t follow you down! To hear one news story and decide that we’re all going to die, and deserve to, is just crazy in my book. I think there’s a lot more good people in this world, who are working on solutions to the fucked up things we’ve done thus far, and they’re going to make a difference. Hell, they already are! Our country passes all kinds of laws to protect the environment, and in Europe, they have even stronger laws. I can’t believe you think politicians and business owners don’t think about their own kids, or grandkids. They know they have to live here too, and no one wants to poison the future intentionally. These are people, not monsters.”

“They don’t have to be ‘monsters’ to worship the dollar more than other people’s lives David. They can be regular church-going people, but still value money more that anything else. I mean, even if they get old and realize what shitty choices they’ve made, it’s too late! The damage is done, and they can’t do a damn thing about it even with all their money. And, they ain’t giving that up!”

“You know, truthfully, it’s been like this almost our whole relationship. You can’t even watch the evening news with me because you get too depressed about the stories you see. It’s like we’re hearing two different broadcasts. I’m not blaming you for being the way you are, but it’s so different from how I am that I feel alienated from you. I have to work hard to not slide down that hole you’re in. That dark place where everything’s wrong and everyone has some hidden agenda. I can’t go there! I don’t want to go there.”

“I’m not in some dark hole, you asshat, I just think about how screwed up things are and it depresses me. Maybe I’m more sensitive than you are. Maybe I have more feelings for things like the planet and animals and birds eating plastic. People do screwed up things every day and no one seems to want to inconvenience their lives in any way. I mean what? Use a reusable bad for groceries and not a toxic plastic one? Oh no, that’s too much trouble! That’s how people are David, face it.”

“Look Rachel, I love my life, I love the people I know, hell I love people I don’t even know yet. I know the world isn’t perfect, I know there’s a shit load of things wrong all over the globe, but most of it has so little to do with me that I can’t relate to it. I just keep my focus on my life, right here, right around me.

I have concerns about the world, but I can’t take on worrying about it like I have some affect over it. I can use a cotton bag for groceries, I can never use plastic water bottles, and I can make a compost pile in my kitchen. But that’s me, just me! And you know what? If other people see me doing that, maybe one or two of them will decide to try it too. That’s how the world changes, in tiny little steps.”

“Oh and you think that’s enough? You think people all over are going to notice that David has stopped buying plastic water bottles, and change their whole fucking way of life?”

“I don’t know Rachel, and suddenly I don’t give a shit either! I just want to be happy. I just want to live my life for me. Not to please the rest of the world, and not to please you either. I just can’t live like this anymore. I can’t live for a future that only exists in your mind. There’s not enough room in there for me anymore, and I think you sense that too. You’re trying to make me into something I’m not, and it’s like being a shoe that doesn’t fit right. You keep trying it on,  but it still hurts.”

“Wait, what? How did this become about our relationship? What did I say, or do that made you suddenly want to leave me?” Tears were close now, a rare thing for her, and he knew that.

Become about our relationship? It’s all about our relationship, it’s always been about our relationship! Everything we do, or don’t do – every choice we make, every discussion or fight we have are all affecting and forming our relationship. It’s a living and changing process, and ours is actually dying. There’s a lack of oxygen in this living space, Rachel, and we’re suffocating slowly. 

Today Everything Changes

5 AM was way too early for any human being to have to wake up. He knew that in the future he’d have to change this, but for now, up-and-at-em. Rushing into the shower, water way too hot, he soaped, shaved and got ready as fast as he could. As he was getting dressed Jim thought he felt a tremor, like a light earthquake but much lighter than he had ever felt before. Living in California this wasn’t anything to get too excited over, any earthquake that didn’t shake the dishes out of the cupboard wasn’t an earthquake to worry about. This looked like one more day he’d be late for work but not by too much.

Jim turned on the radio; he liked listening to the news in the morning while he got dressed so he’d be ‘up’ on current events by the time he got to the office.
“The office” he thought, sometimes Jim chuckled at the sound of that. He still marveled at the fact that he was the manager of a group of technicians for a large state agency. It wasn’t too many years ago Jim was doing all kinds of different jobs to make ends meet. That was about the time he decided that he needed to go back to college and get a degree or he was going to be doing those kinds of jobs for the rest of his life.

Two years at the State College, many sleepless nights and gallons of coffee finally got Jim the degree he needed. Not long after graduation he got an opportunity to accept a part-time state job. Jim hesitated at the offer because it wasn’t exactly his dream job. But, on the other hand, benefits and a nice retirement made him think twice and he agree to it. About a year afterward they offered it to him full-time and he accepted quickly. Now, 12 years later Jim is still there, and still pretty-much enjoying what he’s doing.

The drive to work was so routine he was almost sure he could do it with his eyes closed by now. 45 minutes of stop and go, fast and slow, friendly drivers waving their middle fingers at each other. Today seemed a little different though. People were being much more respectful of others, and he didn’t see one rude gesture the whole way to the parking garage. In the office, his coworkers also seemed to be in exceptionally good moods as well. Almost every person he passed had a hearty ‘Good Morning’ for him. Must be something in the water, or the coffee this morning he decided.

In his office, going through the morning’s email, he realized he too was in a better than average mood for a Monday. Plowing through redundant messages, but humming an old song to himself all the while. Suddenly, another tremor hit, a bit stronger than the one he had felt at home. His secretary stuck her head into the doorway, “You feel that one?” she asked. He nodded, and asked her if she’d felt the one earlier. She hadn’t, but had heard about it from many others.

Susan was her name, and she’d worked for Jim for almost two years now. She was usually shy and did not engage in much small talk, but this morning she seemed almost effusive. She actually came in to his office and sat down to chat. Jim couldn’t remember if she’d ever done this before, but it certainly was pleasant now. Their conversation was fast and animated, and Jim counted at least six times they had mutually complimented each other. Had he had some of this coffee too? No, couldn’t be that, but something sure seemed different. Not bad, just different.

Before they had finished their conversation, another tremor struck. Not much stronger than the last one, but lasting much longer. Jim counted off in his head what he thought was about 20 seconds of shaking. That was unusually long for a California tremor. Jim stood up and looked out the window of his office, Susan joined him. The rumbling had stopped but now there were many faces in the windows of other nearby buildings.

“I hope this isn’t a run up to a much bigger one.” Susan said to him. Jim reassured her that sometimes tremors are just small adjustments deep in the ground and don’t necessarily lead to anything else. But, in his own mind he actually shared her concern too. “Look at the people down there.” Susan said as she pointed down at the sidewalk. Jim saw that lots of people below were all looking up in to the sky. His office window did not afford much of a view of the sky so they couldn’t see what the people were looking up at, but they were all smiling about whatever it was. Jim suspected it was one of those airplanes that pull a huge advertising banner behind it. Maybe it had a cute message for someone on it.

“What do you think they’re pointing up at Jim?” Susan asked in almost a whisper. He was getting very curious too. Maybe it was time to go see what was going on, he thought.
“C’mon, let’s go out and see what’s going on.” Jim said. But, before they could start out of the office another temblor hit, and Jim silently counting it got up to 55 seconds. Very unusual he thought, very unusual.

Jim, Susan and many of their coworkers all began to leave the building at the same time. This wasn’t a typical earthquake since it had kept shaking for so long and it seemed like it wasn’t going to stop. The shaking wasn’t terribly violent, and the building wasn’t coming apart, but almost a full minute of quaking made it very weird. Things weren’t falling off shelves, and nothing seemed damaged, but that was weird too. As they made their way outside they noticed the sky seemed to be dimmer than normal, as if clouds had suddenly rolled in. But, as they looked up, it wasn’t clouds that were blocking the sun. No, it was something huge, something so much bigger than any of them had ever seen before, it made Jim gasp.

Jim looked right up at it, and found himself trying to blink it away in disbelief. It was just so completely fantastical that it was hard for his mind to accept what it was seeing. It literally looked like a planet in the sky. Obviously it couldn’t be a small planet, but it was huge, truly the biggest thing he’d ever seen floating in midair. It was so big that it was hard to tell how close it already was, but it seemed as if it was very slowly moving closer still. It was a dark bronze color with a greenish hue, and large deep vertical crevices, but yet a perfect sphere. Jim couldn’t hear any noise coming from it, but he did feel something he couldn’t explain.

By now there were hundreds of people in the street, and everyone seemed to be streaming in the same direction – down the main boulevard towards the great park in the middle of the city. He wasn’t sure why everyone would be heading there, but when he stopped to think about it, something inside him made him feel like he needed to go there too, so he did. Even Susan was walking to it several yards ahead of him, as if she didn’t even need a moment to wonder why.

Most people were just walking, some jogging, and some were actually running towards the park. Jim joined the people that were walking at a slightly faster pace. Everyone was seemingly in a very good mood; smiling, laughing and chatting with anyone and everyone near them. No one seemed to be afraid of this giant sphere in the sky, and Jim had to admit to himself that he didn’t feel fear either. How could he not be afraid, he wondered, of the most irrational and abstract thing he’d ever witnessed? He had no answers.

As he was walking Jim felt somebody run past and brush hard against his arm. It was a woman, and as she stopped to apologize for bumping into him, they looked at each other and Jim realized he knew her. It was Jane, a woman he dated several years ago. They smiled at each other in happy recognition. He hadn’t seen Jane in over 5 years, after an abrupt and unceremonious breakup which was completely his fault. Yet for some reason, he didn’t feel embarrassed or guilty anymore. “Jane what’s going on with all this?” He asked her, before he could think about why he’d ask her this question.

She looked at him and smiled very calmly, and she thought for a minute before she answered him. “They’re really here” she said “My people have finally come, and now they’ll all be here with you, with us.”
“You’re one of them?” Jim asked in surprise. But even as he was asking that, in his own mind, Jim knew that this was true. He’d always felt she was kind of unusual, different than most any other women he’d ever dated. She was calm, thoughtful, loving, and very wise for her years. Someone he thought of as an Old Soul. She had definitely been different than any other woman he’d ever slept with. Slow and quiet, sensual and sensitive – and she had made him feel the same way. Like time had stopped while they were together. Now though, at this moment, he couldn’t even remember why he’d broken up with her, but maybe it didn’t matter anymore.

“What’s going to happen, why are they here now?” Jim asked her.
“They’re here to join us, to live with us, to teach us. Well… all of you anyway.” She said, her face beaming. “Listen to your inner voice Jim, you already know there’s nothing to be afraid of, everything is going to be just fine and you can trust that feeling.”
With that, she turned away from him quickly and began running again towards the park. As she left she shouted back “Jim don’t worry so much, you’ll see me again. We met for a reason and this is it. I’ll meet you down there and you’ll soon understand.” He wasn’t positive what she meant, but he trusted that she was right, that maybe he’d understand it all very soon.

Jim mixed back in with the flow of people who were all moving towards the great park. The park was an enormous green space the original city planners had placed in the center of the city almost a century before. It was prime real estate, and many a developer had tried unsuccessfully to purchase it from the city. But, each time they tried they were met with almost unbelievable public outcries and demonstrations. Jim couldn’t help but wonder if there was something unconscious in the back of people’s minds that helped motivate them to protect this space. Maybe something planted there long ago.

As Jim arrived at the edge of the park he could see people slowing down and gathering in small groups, speaking in low tones. Everyone was smiling and happy like they were at the state fair. No fear, no panic, no sign of slightest amount of distress appeared on anyone’s face.

The gigantic sphere seemed to have stopped getting closer, it looked to be about a mile up in the sky now, not moving. As Jim moved towards the center of the park he could see a narrow beam of light was emanating from the bottom of the sphere downward to the grass. It made a circle of light like a stage spotlight, but not quite as bright. Somehow he knew that this was the exact spot where these new visitors were going to appear.

He saw Jane just across the way, on the other side of the beam of light. He made eye contact with her and she smiled broadly at him. As she walked towards him, Jim felt a warm sensation all through his body, like pure pleasure coursing through his veins. He knew he was about to witness the changing of everything he’d ever known, and he was as excited as a child on Christmas morning.