Tag Archives: Sea To Shining Sea

Tuesday Ramblings

Funny how old rock songs have taken on new meaning. This is one of many songs that keep me inspired and energized in the fight for freedom and the realization of my goals.

Got a late start in blogging today, thanks to hours of work on my sequel and on my exciting writing project with Kevin Price and our team of talented patriots. Nothing soothes the soul for a writer and concerned American citizen quite like putting thoughts to paper (or more accurately, thoughts to keyboard to screen).

Unlike Water Signs, the writing process for Sea To Shining Sea has been long, drawn-out and quite challenging. Whereas the first book evolved out of a steady (sometimes relentless) stream of consciousness, the second is coming into being through deliberate creative license, by taking public events (Tea Parties, congressional elections, FISA Act) and making them very personal for my characters. As with my debut novel, it has been fun to witness the evolution of my characters who’ve grown considerably into their own “people”.

I mentioned in a previous post that while Ken and Maddy were originally conceived as representations of real-life, flesh-and-blood human beings, as the the Water Signs plot developed they came into their own as characters, going way beyond their initial conceptions. This is in no way a slight to either myself or the guy I once knew. It simply means that reality is a great starting point, but not necessarily enough for compelling fiction. The same holds true for many of the minor characters, although I did my best to remain as true to their real-life inspirations as possible.

The writing process is a funny thing. Last night, while struggling to wrap up Chapter Five (a few more sections to go), I wound up going in a completely different direction than I’d originally intended. At first I was a little frustrated, but now I see how the things I’ve written fit in so much more easily and more effectively support my overall objective — which is to set the stage for future events via foreshadowing. This time around, Sabrina Anthony is my “psychic” character, however in a Christian mystic/prophet sort of way. A new character, Sabrina is named for a writer-friend of mine, and will literally be a lifesaver — along with her husband Ed — for both Ken and Madeline.

In Chapter Five, Sabrina hints to the reader via a one-on-one conversation with Ken, that perhaps the telecom merger he’s been so diligently working on is not meant to come to fruition — that God might have a higher purpose in mind for him. Being a sensitive (not to mention, successful) artist and devout Christian, Sabrina remains very subtle, though we get the distinct impression that she knows much more than she’s actually admitting. Fully aware of the intense pressure Ken is under, she realizes the importance of understatement; declaring boldly her knowledge of the impending failure of her intense, corporate-minded friend’s ultimate career goal would not exactly endear her to her husband’s Navy buddy, nor lessen the pain for him when it does actually implode. (Later when he decides to run for office, Ken will reflect back upon this conversation and realize Sabrina’s wisdom)

During this same conversation, we also learn of Sabrina’s negative experience with Erin at Ken’s first wedding — a distasteful event that left such a bad impression, both Ed and Sabrina purposely chose to skip out on the second one, assuming Ken had made another disastrous choice. For that reason, she confesses to Ken, guilt compelled her to respond positively to his call for help and thus, offer her home and her husband’s professional medical care to the scared, pregnant Madeline, who has had a terrible experience with the Canadian health care system.

Fun Side Note: I chose Vancouver as the setting for Ken’s business deal, and Seattle as the home of his old Navy buddy Ed for a few reasons, including geography. Since the book is titled, Sea To Shining Sea, I had to figure out a way to get my characters from Atlantic to Pacific. Further, I worked for Washington Mutual Bank in marketing, community relations and recruiting capacities for several years and had made many excursions to Seattle for business reasons.

As I’ve also noted previously, the old saying “write what you know” is a valid one. Since I’ve seen Mount Ranier, the Cascade Mountains, the Space Needle and other well-known attractions up close, describing them is easy. And while I regret I’ve never been to Vancouver, several of my co-workers on many of those trips did venture to the beautiful Canadian city, and filled me in on their experiences. And what I could not recall, I relied on the internet to fill in. I hope the result is an accurate portrayal, but perhaps my Canadian friends will let me know how well I did when the book is finished. 🙂

Well, I guess it’s time to get back to editing essays for the forthcoming liberty devotional!

1 Comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Politics, Pop Culture, Professional Experience, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Chapter Four Preview: Sea To Shining Sea

Author’s Note: Sea To Shining Sea, like its predecessor, Water Signs, is also based on real life events. However, as readers familiar with my first novel will notice, the sequel borrows more heavily from public events than personal ones, incorporating — among other things — American politics in the age of Obama, and the phenomenon of social media, blogs, and internet radio into the lives of my two main characters.

There’s a distinct political right-turn in the second book, whereby Madeline becomes an active participant in the Tea Party Movement and online conservative revolution, and Ken — as a result of suffering irreparable damage to his career as a result of D.C.’s policies — finds himself running for congressional office.

From a socio-political standpoint, pro-life values and the horrors of socialized medicine are upheld and explored as the characters are forced to put their convictions into practice under incredibly trying circumstances. Astute readers will also recognize the presence of a very well-known public and political figure in the character of Anna Hardin. 😉

Chapter Four

“Ken? It’s time to get up, honey,” Paula’s voice was soothing and calm as she peered into the guest bedroom of her house, where her youngest son had sought refuge for a few hours of much-needed sleep. Fully secure in the knowledge of Brian’s medical diagnosis, he’d returned to his parents’ home in Royal Oak Hills at his mother’s insistence. She dreaded the thought of him boarding yet another grueling, cross-country flight, especially after such an emotionally exhausting incident, and had successfully convinced him to leave Brian in the company of his mother and potential stepfather while he tended to his own well-being.

“You’re no good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself,” she’d cautioned him sternly, adamant that his protests were not going to overrule motherly concern and intuition. In the end, Paula won the battle, much to the delight of her equally worried husband, who nevertheless, had an ulterior motive for wanting to get out of there. While he’d also shared his wife’s interest in their son’s obvious need for rest, he couldn’t wait to get away from the distasteful scene at the hospital with Erin and her beau.

A scrappy, self-made man, Carl had little time for his gold-digging, former daughter-in-law and her snobby, Old- Palm-Beach-Money boyfriend, both of whom were an embarrassment to his family with their condescending attitude toward the entire medical staff on Brian’s case. At one point, he’d witnessed Bennett barking orders at a kindly nurse, much in the way he’d imagined him addressing the servants in his home. Apparently, demonstrating respect for others – regardless of their station in life – had not been something ingrained in the Whitehorn home during Bennett’s upbringing. It was just more proof that money simply cannot buy class, and that Erin had indeed found a kindred spirit in the Florida Republican Party’s golden boy.

And while Carl had heard some rumblings recently about the possibility of their current congressman resigning in a cloud of suspicion over illegal (though as yet unpublicized) activity, there were also new rumors swirling around town about the governor’s interest in recruiting Bennett Whitehorn to run in a special election, should one become necessary. Of course, all of this was mere speculation at this point, which was why Carl was reserving judgment until Talon Grant himself confirmed the news on-air.

Thanks to his new daughter-in-law, Carl had become one of Talon’s most loyal listeners in the past year, rarely missing a broadcast and even then, only if family obligations demanded it. Fortunately, his wife had successfully entreated him to turn off the radio and join her in the stands that fateful afternoon at Brian’s Little League game. Good thing he’d listened to his astute better half; otherwise, their grandson would’ve sustained a life-threatening injury without a single family member present. And while the child himself wouldn’t have known the difference, with Ken and Madeline so far away, his grandparents felt an even deeper responsibility to pitch in and make the best of the situation. God knew the previous six months had been a rough transition for everyone involved.

In the tranquility of early dusk, Ken slowly regained consciousness, prompted by the familiar sound of his mother’s voice. For a fleeting instant, it felt as if he was back in elementary school at St. James in his Ventnor hometown, getting his second parental wake-up call – save for the fact that in those days, the voice was of a much more urgent and stern nature, usually accompanied by a demand to wash, dress and get downstairs for breakfast immediately.

“Ugh, what time is it?” he groaned, rubbing his eyes as he rolled over to face the doorway. In spite of several hours of deep sleep, he still felt as if he’d been hit by a truck; the thought of facing a nearly ten-hour ride on an airplane with its complementary jet-lag only intensified the feeling. Thank goodness it wasn’t a commercial flight.

“It’s close to seven, I think. How’d you sleep?” she inquired anxiously. “Poor guy, I wish you didn’t have to go back to Vancouver tonight. Can’t you leave in the morning?”

“I’d love to Mom, but Ian would absolutely kill me. This deal is encountering enough resistance as it is; I have to get back there as soon as I can to try to smooth things over.

“Besides,” he added as he sat up against the pillows, “Maddy needs me.”

She took a seat at the end of the bed. “Well Ken, I am sure she misses you, but Madeline is a big girl. If she could see how worn out you are, she’d want you to get more rest before rushing back to the madness. Unlike Erin, she’s very capable of managing alone. I’ve never met a more determined and strong young woman. If you just call her I’m sure she’d —”

“Mom, there’s something I have to tell you,” Ken interrupted, remembering the other impactful news in his life yet to be shared, let alone savored. “Actually, Dad needs to hear this, too. Where is he?”

“He headed over to Danielle and Patrick’s to help your brother install new French doors on his patio. I told him to go since he’d promised them he’d do it weeks ago, and after all of the drama with Brian’s accident, he needed a break. Bennett and Erin really got to him today.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ken observed wistfully. “But Dad’s not the only one. If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with what I’m about to tell you, I might’ve permanently removed the smirk from that arrogant jerk’s face, requiring still another visit to the plastic surgeon – only this time for him and not Erin.”

Noting the seriousness of his tone, she felt her heart skip a beat while she braced herself for the worst and urged him to continue. And as her son apprised her of the recent developments out of Vancouver, including the sordid details of Madeline’s visit with Dr. Harper, she struggled to come to terms with it all. On one hand, she was relieved to have discovered the cause of her daughter-in-law’s troubling fatigue, and overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming more grandchildren into the world. But on the other, she was frightened by what the future might hold for this new family. It was difficult enough coping with two traumatized children, a demanding ex and a heavy financial burden; now her son and his bride would be asked to potentially add twins to the mix – one or both of whom could have special needs.

Reading her mind, Ken observed, “Look, Mom, I know this is a huge surprise; I mean, the doctor swore up and down to Maddy before we got married that she’d never be able to have kids.”

He ran a hand through his hair as he continued with a sigh, “My God, I remember that day so clearly. She was completely devastated, even though she’d claimed beforehand she’d pretty much resigned herself to her fate. I guess it’s one thing to accept something in theory, but when you’re hit with the cold, hard reality, it’s something else.”

Visions of holding her tightly in his arms while she cried began to materialize in his mind. They’d been sitting on the couch in the family room one night after dinner when she’d broken the news to her soon-to-be husband, who, in spite of his protests, had held onto a glimmer of hope for fathering a child with her. It was an interlude they’d never discussed with anyone else in the family, preferring to keep the matter private. With all they’d been through simply to get to the point of marrying each other sixteen years after their first meeting—not to mention two existing children to raise – no one had even entertained the idea of questioning their intentions to reproduce.

But now in the quiet of an early summer evening, Ken finally unburdened himself to his mother, his palpable anguish heightened against the backdrop of events beyond his control, such as Washington’s refusal to pass the FISA Act. If this telecomm deal were to implode, what was he going to do to support his growing family? How would they manage if these new babies had handicaps that demanded more resources than they could afford? And what about Bonnie and Brian’s ever-increasing needs, not the least of which would eventually entail a college education? How was he going to save for that inevitable expense? He’d be damned if he’d allow Bennett Whitehorn to shoulder the responsibility for his kids’ higher education, as Erin had hinted one day during a heated argument on the phone.

“Kenny!” His mother’s tone was firm and reassuring as she interrupted his descent into downward-spiraling despair. “Listen to me: do not give in to your fears. God has blessed you with incredible strength, talent and character. You have always handled every adversity that life has thrown at you, and you will handle this, too. Your father and I are so proud of you, and I want you to know that we’re here for you, Madeline and the kids, whatever may come.”

Placing a hand on his shoulder, she added, “Do you have any idea how proud I am to call you my son?”

Ken’s eyes filled up as he looked at his mother, suddenly feeling like a little boy in need of consolation after losing a pee-wee football game. For what seemed like an eternity, necessity had dictated putting up a nearly invincible front for the sake of his wife and his children; it was a welcome relief to be on the receiving end of such heartfelt sympathy and comfort, if only for a brief moment in time.

“Thank you,” he barely choked out as a lone tear trickled down his face. “Mom,” he continued in the next breath, “please keep this between you and Dad for now. I don’t want the kids to know until Maddy gets through the first trimester, and I sure as hell don’t want Erin and Bennett finding out about it anytime soon, either. Once she makes it through that and we know for sure what lies ahead, we’ll break the news to Bonnie and Brian. I don’t even want Danielle and Patrick to get wind of it, since Danielle can’t keep a secret to save her life.”

“Sure, honey, I understand,” she agreed softly. “And since Brian can’t travel for another month anyway, you’ve got some time.”

Ken sighed deeply as he settled back into the pillows and placed his hands behind his head. “It’s all a little overwhelming,” he admitted, “but I am determined to stay strong for Maddy. I just hope I can be half the man she believes me to be.”

“Kenneth Lockheart, you are all that and more!” his mother admonished him. “I’ve known it from the day you were born. You’ve never stopped making me proud, and I am amazed by the way you’ve dealt with so many tough challenges all at once. I am blessed to have you as my son, and I will do whatever it takes to help you get through this. I just want you to be happy; I can’t think of anyone who deserves that more.”

Overcome with emotion, he sat up and wordlessly embraced the woman who’d been his biggest cheerleader and constant champion from day one, exceedingly grateful for her continued presence in his life.

##################################################################################

As North River Communications’ company jet flew high above the Rocky Mountains on a northwesterly course to Vancouver, its lone passenger angrily stared at the screen of his laptop, incredulous by what he’d just read in the online version of the Sun-Sentinel. In response to the question, “What sports tradition would you like to see eliminated?” some dumbass sportswriter had actually suggested the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, claiming it was a “meaningless act, signifying nothing.”

Having already reached his tipping point, Ken had hoped a short visit to the sports section would offer a temporary reprieve from the daunting realities he was facing both personally and professionally, but alas, it seemed every damned thing was political these days. In a world gone crazy, the lefties had managed to suck the joy out of even the most beloved traditions with their constant self-flagellation and relentless America-bashing. And as a man who’d proudly served his country, he’d about had it with the blatant ignorance of most mainstream journalists, for whom trashing their country was not just fashionable, but a pre-requisite for career success. None of them had a clue as to what it meant to truly serve the cause of freedom, though as the beneficiaries of its blessings, they certainly knew how to show their ingratitude—safe from any potential backlash in the form of bodily harm.

Ken immediately thought of the incredibly brave Iranian protesters who’d recently taken to the streets in Tehran – at great personal peril – and in particular, Neda Soltani, the beautiful young woman whose life had been viciously snuffed out by a bullet to the chest from someone who despised the very concept of freedom. He felt fairly certain that Neda would’ve gratefully sung America’s national anthem every single day of her life, had she been lucky enough to emigrate here. Then again, the current occupant of the White House demonstrated his support for the freedom fighters by enjoying a carefree evening at a local D.C. ice cream parlor with his kids, even as the brutal mullahs unleashed a bloody reign of terror upon their own citizens. Why should some stupid sports reporter get the significance of the national anthem when clearly, the President of the United States and the alleged leader of the free world was – at best – indifferent to it?

Letting out a bitter laugh, Ken decided to fire off an angry email to the so-called journalist and his editors, all of whom, he believed strongly, must be held accountable. For a quick second, he’d thought about running it by his eloquent wife for a grammatical edit before actually sending, but figured she’d already had enough on her mind. The last thing he wanted was to further incite her passions when so much was at stake with her new pregnancy.

##################################################################################

Back in the Vancouver Penthouse, Maddy cried out in disbelief – to no one in particular – as she listened to the archive of Talon’s latest show. She’d settled into the plush queen-sized bed, comfortably ensconced against a cushion of fluffy pillows while her Dell Inspiron was securely situated on her lap. Ever since Kenny had agreed to call Ed Anthony, a welcome feeling of peace and serenity had taken over, freeing her to once again enjoy her normal rituals, confident she’d at least have the best of care while she and Kenny dealt with whatever God had in store for them. But as she took in the latest political news out of South Florida, she nearly fell out of the bed.

Congressman Art Rothstein had resigned in disgrace after a long FBI investigation had at last revealed his involvement in illegal activities, including a money-laundering scheme and pay-offs to prostitutes using taxpayer money. Talon had interspersed audio clips of that afternoon’s West Palm Beach press conference with his own inimitable, biting commentary in which he absolutely savaged Rothstein for his dereliction of duty and abject lack of character. The same man who remained willfully impervious to the desires of his constituents – expressed so passionately and intelligently at countless town hall meetings and protests – could not resist abusing the power of his office to serve his own avaricious ambitions and desires. Even worse, while America was still fighting a war against Muslim fanatics, Rothstein continually capitulated to the delusional thirty percent of the population that stubbornly believed in appeasement, notwithstanding the hard lessons of history.

To that end, the Lockheart’s congressional representative had repeatedly vowed to vote against any legislation, i.e. FISA, which would allow for the interception of communication from foreign terror cells into the country. Fully aware of their vulnerability to frivolous lawsuits from far-left groups including the ACLU,  telecomm companies like Ken’s had actively lobbied Washington to include language in the bill that would protect them from punishment for the crime of cooperating and participating  in the protection of their homeland. With Coastal Communications headquartered in Palm Beach County, and employing a significant portion of his district, any rational person would expect Rothstein to fully support the measure. Regrettably, however, the congressman had proven himself to be yet another self-serving politician more concerned with maintaining his own power through the satisfaction of his well-funded special interest groups than with the safety of his fellow Americans.

But as awful as their representation in D.C. had been with Rothstein, Madeline nevertheless cringed with every new and harrowing criminal detail brought to light on Talon’s broadcast. Sure, she’d known all along he was a snake; however, to hear her suspicions confirmed with such in-depth reportage of an apparently endless tale of backroom deals, perilous treachery and sexual perversion nevertheless hit her hard. How depressing to realize there were so few statesmen left in public office! When she thought of the incredible courage and integrity of the Founding Fathers, who, on pain of death, never once faltered in their passionate pursuit of liberty, she literally wanted to cry.

And then, the final blow.

Talon completed the Rothstein segment by announcing the governor’s decision to hold a special election in October to temporarily fill the vacant seat until the following year’s mid-terms. No surprise there, although Maddy immediately began wracking her brain over potential grass-roots activists who might stand a credible shot at putting up a competitive fight against a Democrat, if not actually win the race. With so many elderly FDR-admirers in the district still so frustratingly enamored with big-government and held captive to the Bolshevik mentality, she’d long ago surmised that it could take a few more generations for things to change for the better. What threw her completely off-guard, however, was Talon’s next announcement as to the Republican governor’s choice for his party’s candidate: Bennett Whitehorn.

“What?!” she shot up in bed, nearly causing the laptop to crash to the floor. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she shouted out into the empty space surrounding her. “Erin’s boyfriend? The out-of-touch Palm Beach RINO? That’s who this stupid party is backing in the special election?  Oh my God…I can’t believe it!”

Energized by anger and outrage, she threw back the covers, got out of the bed and strode into to the kitchen, where she pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and began pacing back and forth. She’d just taken another refreshing swig when she heard the key turn in the lock. In the next instant, the door opened to reveal the presence of her long-awaited husband, in whose direction she instantly ran, overjoyed he’d once again returned safely to her arms.

“Hey sweetheart! Did ya miss me?” Ken greeted her happily, burying his head in her neck and taking in the sweet smell of her hair as he lifted her off the ground. Then, suddenly remembering her condition, he quickly set her back on her feet.

“Sorry Mads, I’m so used to doing that, I forgot about the babies.”

“Kenny, I’m pregnant, not made of fine china,” she teased him, reaching up to kiss him as she stood on her toes. He laughed before savoring the sweetness of her lips – a welcome end to a very long journey.

Finally breaking away, she asked, “How are you? How’s Brian?”

Wrapping one arm around her waist while the other pulled his suitcase behind him, Ken filled her in on all that had transpired at Boca Community Hospital, including his dad’s disgust with Erin and Bennett. By the time they’d entered the bedroom, an excitable Maddy had already interrupted with the latest news out of South Florida, inadvertently prompted by her husband at the mere mention of Bennett’s name.

“Are you absolutely sure about all of this?” he questioned as the two of them sat down on Maddy’s side of the unmade bed.

“Ken, I just now listened to it on Talon’s archives; of course I am sure!” she scolded mildly.

Taking her hand in his and squeezing it tightly, he noted, “Ok, relax, sweetheart, I believe you. It’s just that – well, I am really surprised my ex wasn’t gloating over it, especially since she’d been given the perfect opportunity to do so in person at the hospital, once Brian was out of the woods. There we all were, trapped in the same space together, and neither she nor her jackass of a boyfriend said a word about it.”

RINO,” Maddy corrected him. “Bennett is nothing but an establishment RINO, although he may also be a jackass of another sort.” Ken laughed and lifted her hand to his lips for a quick kiss before she continued.

“And who knows? Maybe they’d been sworn to secrecy until the news about Rothstein hit the fan. It sounds to me like the governor knew about this all along, and had been grooming Erin’s Sugar Daddy for the race from the get-go. God, I hate politics,” she added with a sigh.

“For someone so passionate about this country, I find that hard to believe,” he smiled as he drew her into a tight embrace.

“Hey, I love freedom, but I hate politics,” she clarified wistfully. “Unfortunately, you can’t have one without getting involved in the other.” Her voice became muffled as she snuggled closely into his chest, savoring the warmth of his strong body, and the lingering scent of his intoxicating cologne.

“Anyway,” she noted, taking a deep breath. “There’s plenty of time for that fight tomorrow. Right now I am feeling a different kind of passion.”

Ken struggled to maintain his composure as she began placing soft kisses up and down his neck while slowly unbuttoning his shirt. Grabbing her hands in the next instant, he looked deeply into her eyes and cautioned, “Maddy, c’mon now, don’t tease me like that.”

“Who’s teasing?” she asked, puzzled by his reaction.

“I don’t think we should do this now that you’re—”

“Now that I’m what? Pregnant?” she laughed incredulously. “Kenny, with an attitude like that, it’s going to be a really long seven months. Besides, the only good thing Dr. Death had told me was that it was safe for us to be together.”

“Are you sure?” he whispered huskily, realizing he was about to lose the internal battle between desire and intellect. She was just too damned irresistible for any other outcome. And knowing her as he did, he also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt his beautiful wife would never do anything to endanger her unborn children.

So when she’d succeeded in fully releasing him from the confines of his shirt and began to tenderly massage his chest with her delicate hands, all he could do was surrender to temptation while the moonlight bathed their bedroom in its romantic glow.

###################################################################################

The beautiful, two-story Buchan home in the posh Lakemont neighborhood of Bellevue, Washington stood proudly on the private cul-de-sac at the end of  47th Way, flanked by majestic evergreens and elegant rose gardens. Inside, one of its proud owners, Sabrina Anthony, a well-known local artist and award-winning photographer, had taken a break from her creative endeavors to tend to the mundane tasks of dusting and vacuuming. In spite of her doctor-husband’s protests, the practical, God-fearing woman had refused to hire a housekeeper, preferring instead to take responsibility for maintaining her own house. With the exception of outdoor landscaping, for which they’d hired a reputable local company, Sabrina and her husband, Ed, willingly spent a portion of their free time caring for their hard-earned slice of heaven.

A tiny, petite woman with dark, curly hair and fashionable glasses, she’d just opened up a step-ladder to allow for easier access to some high-up knick-knacks when she was interrupted by a ringing telephone.

“Hm, I wonder if that’s Ed calling to tell me his patient went into labor,” she mused out loud as she scrambled to reach the kitchen counter. Lifting the receiver to her ear, she was surprised when her greeting was answered by a voice from the distant past.

“Sabrina, hey, it’s Ken Lockheart, Best Man from your wedding. Remember me?”

He let out a nervous laugh, recalling vividly the shenanigans that had taken place at Ed’s bachelor party all of those years ago, back in the days when both of them were still somewhat immature, in spite of all they’d seen and done in the Navy.

“Ken!” she exclaimed, her eyes widening in surprise. “Wow, this is certainly unexpected. How are you?”

He breathed a sigh of relief at the obvious delight in her tone, though he needn’t have worried. Sabrina had never been one to hold a grudge, and besides, nearly twenty years had passed since that crazy night. Moreover, as they quickly approached this significant wedding anniversary, she and Ed remained blissfully happy—in spite of the dire warnings of well-meaning family members who’d cautioned at the time that they were too young to make such a commitment.

Ironically, although her husband had gone on to achieve great success in his gynecologic practice Sabrina had been unable to conceive a child of their own. And though they could afford the costs of the latest, cutting-edge fertility treatments, she’d adamantly refused, unwilling to put them through the inevitable roller-coaster ride of hopeful anticipation and crushing disappointment. Further, as someone who deeply valued life, Sabrina did not want to put herself in the position of having to choose a “selective reduction” – a nice euphemism for abortion as far as she was concerned – when the accepted processes of medical science inevitably resulted in one too many fertilized eggs.

Instead, she and her husband frequently hosted foster children in their home, and served on the board of several charities that assisted babies and children with birth defects and life-threatening illnesses. Between her non-profit work, her church activities and her artistic endeavors, Sabrina felt more than fulfilled – she felt truly blessed beyond measure.

“I’m fine,” he replied, “How are things in Bellevue? I heard you guys recently bought a house.”

“Yeah, we’ve been here a little over a year now, and we really love it. Eventually Ed wants to open up another practice in the suburbs, but for now he’s happy commuting into Seattle. Funny, I thought you might be him calling to say he wouldn’t be home for dinner since his patient finally went into labor.”

“No, but I am calling about something work-related,” Ken explained, “Something that also involves my wife, Madeline.”

“Oh Ken, congratulations on your wedding! Ed and I were sorry we couldn’t fly out to South Florida to be there. What an amazing story, that is—kind of like something out of a fairytale,” she gushed.

“Yes, it definitely felt that way to us,” he agreed. “And actually, I am hoping you and Maddy will get the opportunity to meet each other, now that we’re in Vancouver for a while. But I am really calling because I—well both Maddy and I—truly need your help.”

He went on to recount the circumstances surrounding his unanticipated arrival back into their lives, while a sympathetic Sabrina listened in horror. Having known of many good people who’d crossed the Canadian border in order to procure the services of  American doctors when unable to get the care they needed in their own country, she was sadly familiar with the harrowing tales of endless and oftentimes, life-threatening bureaucracy. And as someone with intimate knowledge of the heartache surrounding conception for women with reproductive problems, she was especially sensitive to Maddy’s plight.

“Absolutely Ed will take care of her!” she announced when Ken finished his summation. “And I think it’s best if she stays here with us for as long as you have to be in Vancouver. Why put her through the aggravation of traveling back and forth when we have a perfectly nice guest room waiting for her? Of course, you are welcome to come down and visit on the weekends,” she added reassuringly. “Didn’t mean to suggest we don’t want you here, too. It just sounds to me as if you’re spending more time at the office than at the Penthouse anyway. That must get lonely for Madeline.”

As he gazed out at the North River and the impressive mountains in the distance from his plush corner office, Ken couldn’t help but agree. Under normal conditions, perhaps he wouldn’t feel so guilty for having to fight his corporate boardroom battles for sixteen long hours a day, while his wife fended for herself in a strange land. But the unexpected news of pregnancy, twins and possible genetic handicaps had certainly added an element of dependency to Maddy’s typically independent nature. It wasn’t fair to expect her to cope with these latest developments on her own, no matter how brave a façade she presented to him. Of course, he anticipated a new battle, as she would most likely resist the idea of staying with the Anthony’s for an indefinite period of time.

Well, she was just gonna have to accept his decision.  As the man of the house, and their main provider, he would insist on it. Like it or not, right now his main focus had to center around their financial security and her physical and emotional well-being. Surely Maddy would understand that.

###################################################################################

Madeline smiled as she clicked on the link, delighted to discover that Ken’s letter to the editor had been posted on a prominent right-leaning pop culture site, having apparently been discovered on her little blog. Thanks to the wonderful interactions of keywords and search engines, “A US Navy Vet’s Response to a Seriously Misguided Journalist” was about to receive widespread recognition on the internet. She’d already sent it to Talon Grant, hoping he’d make note of it on his next broadcast. Who knew what that might lead to? With all of the difficulties Ken was facing at work as a result of political correctness, perhaps Talon might invite him on as a guest one day to enlighten people about what happens when common sense gets thrown out the window.

In the meantime, she took pleasure in once again absorbing her husband’s heartfelt words:

Frank Henley,

I am not sure how you could write such a disheartening column/debate today especially while our country is at war. How can you say singing the National Anthem is a waste of time? You obviously have never served in the military, have no pride or appreciation for our veterans, or are simply looking for attention.

Honestly, everyone I attend games and events with are proud of the moment when we are offered the opportunity to demonstrate how proud we are to be Americans. Singing the National Anthem is an opportunity to bring a diverse nation together. Have you ever been to a game when there may be four or five different conversations going on sometimes in Spanish, French, Japanese, English or the many other languages locals and visitors alike share in our community? Yet when the anthem is played all rise and speak one language, or at least respectfully remain quiet. Maybe you are too busy or too weak to stand in the press box?

You wrote, “having to stand for this song…… at every event has become ridiculous.” Then you go on to say, “all it promotes is…. nothing.”

This song promotes nothing??? This song is our National Anthem! I am disgusted by your words…I think about the meaning of The National Anthem everyday, as do millions of thankful Americans.

Finally, there are 14 houses on my block. At least half have the American flag waving but only three of my neighbors have your newspaper delivered. It is my promise that by tomorrow, there will be 14 American flags flying, but ZERO tribune subscriptions delivered, thanks to your column.

I can understand your ignorance to a certain degree I guess, but your editors must and will be held accountable. I believe an apology to your readers and all the men and women sacrificing their lives for your freedom is in order.

Should you not, I promise to contact every news source possible regarding this matter. To think of the lives lost for YOUR freedom of speech and this is how you choose to show your gratitude. I am quite disgusted to say the least. I am not in the journalism business and my grammar may not be spot on but I have read youth blogs more profound than your garbage today.

P.S. I have served our country and have also witnessed my brothers die for your freedom, some of whom perished in the USS Cole attack. So yes, I am biased, not to mention incredibly angry!

Ken Lockheart
Boca Raton

“You tell ‘em, Kenny,” she thought as she suppressed a yawn and snapped her laptop shut. Fatigue had once again overcome her, and she sank back into the enticing bed linens, hoping to get at least an hour of rest before he arrived home again. For a brief moment, she recalled some incredibly painful, emotionally charged conversations she’d had with her husband in the recent past, pertaining to his fallen USS Cole comrades. It was a subject he’d rarely broached with her, until this new this new administration – with its determination to read terrorists their Miranda Rights instead of treating them as enemy combatants – came into power. Now it seemed events were constantly conspiring to reopen this raw wound. Having a cousin who perished in The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Madeline certainly understood and shared his sorrow and outrage.

And now that she was about to become a mother, concerns about the country’s safety had become increasingly paramount in her mind. As these rambling musings suddenly reminded of the two tiny miracles growing inside of her, she shifted her attention to her unborn babies. Closing her eyes and settling her hands on her stomach, she took deep breaths and tried to imagine what it would be like to give birth to twins. True, it hadn’t been officially confirmed by modern medicine, but she instinctively knew there were two beating hearts inside of her, and she longed for the day when they would finally come into the world.

Of course, the very thought of labor and delivery sent chills up and down her spine, but if she was anything like her mother, there was an excellent chance that Maddy would sail through it without any major difficulties. Monica Rose had never given birth to twins, but it was no small accomplishment to have delivered five babies in the course of nine years; it was even more admirable that Madeline’s mother had gone on to bring three more children into the world after quite unexpectedly having a child with Down syndrome while still in her 20s. Truly, it was a testament to her faith and courage. Good thing she’d been made of such tough stuff, too; otherwise, Lori, Damian and Madeline might never have been born.

As the sun began its slow descent over the horizon, Maddy rolled onto her side and gazed out the window. When her husband had left for work that morning, he’d promised her he’d call Dr. Anthony in Seattle and secure an appointment for her as quickly as possible. Although she’d not yet heard back from him, she attributed his lack of follow-up to another grueling day spent placating executives and lobbying Washington. Talon’s earlier broadcast had revealed—among other enraging things—that the FISA legislation was still inexcusably stalled in Congress, held captive by the demands of powerful special interest groups with short memory spans. What was wrong with these people? How quickly they’d forgotten about September 11, 2001, and all of the ensuing terrorist attacks and attempted attacks that followed in its wake!

Maddy could list them all by heart, from the Madrid bombings to the London subway bombings to the foiled plot to blow up the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Yet, a good portion of the population remained willfully indifferent to the realities of Global Jihad, preferring instead to either blame America for the existence of this rabid, hateful ideology, or simply pretend it didn’t exist. Either way, the result was fatal. And perhaps now even more so because she was about to become a biological mother for the very first time, her passions about national security and the United States military had grown even more intense. Conversely, her patience for deliberate ignorance of the palpable dangers posed to her country and the rest of the free world by radical Islam had all but worn out. Whether due to pop culture, educational indoctrination, laziness or a combination of all three, much of the electorate had chosen self-interest and instant gratification over God, country and sacrifice.

Even so, the stubborn optimist in her refused to believe that all was lost. There were just too many dedicated Americans making their displeasure known in a variety of ways: from town hall meetings and tea party protests to internet blogs and talk shows, the sleeping giant had demonstrated that he’d awakened, and that he was quite put-out by what was happening to his country. Surely the momentum had at last shifted, as events out of Washington D.C. pushed everyday Americans to the breaking point. She only hoped there was still time to counter the madness and get the country back on track again.

As if energized by the thought, she suddenly threw back the covers and hopped out of bed. Making her way to the bathroom, she splashed cold water on her face, and applied some moisturizer before re-touching her make-up and styling her disheveled hair. By the time she heard the key turn in the lock, she’d changed into one of her favorite floral print, feminine dresses, accompanied by a matching forest-green shrug and strappy silver sandals. Even if Ken were to announce the cancellation of their plans to board a dinner cruise that evening as promised, she still wanted to look her very best.

“Hey baby,” she greeted him with a smile as she met him in the kitchen, before reaching up for a quick kiss. “How’d it go today?”

“Ugh, don’t ask,” he sighed, setting his briefcase down and pulling her into a tight embrace. Maddy rested her head against his chest as he smoother her hair with his hands. Planting a quick kiss on the top of her head, he suddenly pulled away to look at her.

“So, are you ready to have a little fun tonight?”

Ken smiled as he posed the question, more than ready for a welcome – if temporary – reprieve from all things work-and-government related. She noted he’d changed into fresh clothes that were a bit more casual than the typical corporate attire she’d last seen him in when she sleepily wished him a productive, stress-free day several hours earlier.

“You mean we’re still on for the cruise?” she asked, her tone laced with breathless excitement.

Sure, it was just a typical, touristy dinner cruise offered by a coastal city—something she’d experienced frequently as a resident of a seaside state. But after the emotionally draining events of the past few weeks, such a simple pleasure had taken on a whole new meaning. She couldn’t remember the last time she and Kenny had spent some quality time together out on the town, for the sole purpose of having fun and enjoying each other’s company. Besides, it was uncertain how long they’d actually remain in the Canadian city at this point; knowing the odds of returning for a vacation someday were fairly low, Maddy wanted to at least partake of one Vancouver attraction.

“Of course we’re still on silly,” he reprimanded her playfully. “I’ve been looking forward to it all day.” Then as if suddenly remembering her condition, he added somewhat soberly, “That is, if you’re feeling up to it.”

Ken rested his hands on her shoulders as he spoke, his eyes searching for any traces of fatigue or distress in his wife’s demeanor.

“Absolutely!” she confirmed brightly. “I didn’t mean to doubt you or anything, either; it’s just that lately, every time we plan something – boom! We’re hit with yet another unexpected calamity. It’s almost too good to be true, the thought that you and I might really get to spend even a few hours doing nothing but laughing, eating, enjoying the view and who knows? Maybe even dancing. How long has it been since we’ve done that?”

“Too long,” he sighed, pulling her into a tight embrace. She closed her eyes as she took in the exquisite warmth of the moment. And as he held her close, Ken hoped she’d be open and receptive to the plans he’d already set in motion.

###################################################################################

The North Shore Mountains stood resplendent and proud in the distance beneath the orange glow of the Vancouver sun as Ken and Maddy stepped out of the limo and onto the Marina. As a chill breeze enveloped them, he slipped an arm tightly around his wife, who was at once relieved she’d had the presence of mind to put on a lined raincoat before they left the Penthouse. May in Vancouver bore no resemblance to May in South Florida, which typically heralded the return of intense heat and humidity. But in spite of the slight discomfort of an unseasonably cool – even by Vancouver standards – evening, the couple looked forward to a few hours’ respite from all things corporate and political.

Alas, as they approached the impressive line of fellow fun-seekers, they quickly discovered that a few carefree hours aboard a touristy dinner cruise would not be devoid of at least some conflict.

“What’s all that commotion?” Maddy asked, noticing a rowdy group of at least 50 protesters standing off to the side, waving signs and yelling.

“Not sure,” Ken replied, protectively tightening his arm around her as they neared the scene. Upon realizing that the assembly of mostly unkempt, gothic-looking twenty-somethings – interspersed with a few elders who appeared to be veterans of Woodstock – were self-described anarchists, 9/11 “truthers” and anti-war activists, they let out a collective groan.

“Ugh, I thought these idiots were mostly concentrated in Austin, Hollywood and Seattle,” Maddy sighed angrily. “Where’s their hero, Congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent? Probably speaking to college kids somewhere in the States, calling for the CIA to be taken out. Or maybe he’s here visiting Vancouver on the taxpayer dime to further incite anti-American sentiment.”

Glancing at Kenny, she noted the palpable rage building within, evidenced by his crimson cheeks and stiff upper body. No doubt, gruesome images of the Cole bombing at the hands of barbaric terrorists – complete with the subsequent gaping hole in the ship’s hull and his friends’ violent, bloody deaths – were reverberating through his mind.

“Kenny! I know you’re mad; I am too,” she counseled in a firm, yet gentle tone. You know more than anyone how much I cannot stand these traitors. I’ve been deleting and blocking them like crazy lately on Facebook, but please don’t pick a fight with them. Just ignore them. Things are bad enough at work already; the last thing you need is to end up in the Vancouver papers as the American Executive who beat up a bunch of punks at the Harbour Cruises Marina,” she warned. “We both know who the media will sympathize with, and it sure as hell won’t be the ‘rich’ Americans from Boca Raton.”

He looked at her wordlessly for a moment before suddenly remembering the fragility of her emotional and physical state, and the news he’d yet to break to her. Surely he could summon the inner strength necessary to practice restraint, notwithstanding the fact that – in that very moment – he wanted nothing more than to teach the aging hippies and their lazy, brainwashed protégées a lesson they’d never forget.

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ve got it under control,” he assured her assertively as they took their place in line behind an attractive, smiling couple that reminded Maddy very much of her cousins Lyle and Daphne. Suddenly she felt a little homesick wondering what everyone was up to back in Pennsylvania. She leaned closer into Kenny’s chest as a cold shiver ran up and down her spine.

“Good,” she noted in a muffled voice. “Because I just want to spend some quality time with my husband and forget about all of the insanity for a little while.”

Madeline closed her eyes and tried to drown out the cacophony of angry epithets and hateful chants of “9/11 was an inside job!” even as the Vancouver police valiantly attempted to maintain order by enforcing a legally mandated distance between protesters and cruise ship patrons.

But in the very next instant, she nearly toppled to the ground in the domino effect caused by a violent, powerful wave of resistance on the part of the unruly mob. Ken had felt the repercussions first, instinctively holding her up while he fought to keep his balance. Enraged, he first inquired about Maddy’s state before sternly instructing her to move further away for the sake of her own safety. Then he returned his attention to surreal mob scene.

“Fucking punks! Damned cowards! How dare you show up here promoting your 9/11 conspiracy bullshit!” he bellowed, as an officer tried to restrain him.

“Sir, please – get back in line now!” the policeman barked at Ken.

“These Woodstock rejects who don’t know a damned thing about duty, honor or country nearly caused my pregnant wife to have an accident! Get them the hell out of here!” he ordered, undeterred by the uniform.

“Corporate shill! Neo-con! Stooge of the New World Order!” an obnoxious teenager taunted at Ken. “Your former president ought to be tried for war crimes!”

“You little son of a bitch; you have no idea what a useful moron you are do you? Do you know how quickly a Jihadist would chop off your ignorant little head?!” Ken shot back with fire in his eyes. By now, two police officers were restraining him, as the others fought to break up the demonstration.

“Sir, please, I am going to have to arrest you if you don’t get back in line! We’re handling this!”

Ken let out a bitter laugh. “Not very well, I’m afraid, officer. What the hell are these people doing here anyway?”

Before the cop could reply, the young anarchist cried out, “Even one of your own Congressmen knows 9/11 was an inside job. Nathaniel Trent is the only member of your government with guts to call it for what it is – just a bloody ploy to instigate two wars for oil and profit!”

“You stupid punk, you don’t know a damned thing, do you? If you did, you’d know that Nathaniel Ulysses Trent is a laughingstock among anyone with half a brain!”

“Nathaniel Trent knows Al-Qaeda is just CIA fantasy, created to take away individual liberty. But what would a fascist, communist pig like you know about freedom anyway!”

“Lucky for you, you little dirtbag, it’s because of people like me that you have the right to spew your conspiracy garbage. I was serving my country long before your worthless ass took up space on this earth. You—”

“Sir, for the last time, either get back in line or I will have to arrest you!” the officer interrupted.

By now, Ken’s face was beet-red, his heart pounding furiously as visions of his Navy days flashed through his mind. Although he’d completed his duty several months before the Gulf War began in 1991, he’d still witnessed plenty of tragedy in the loss of several of his brothers during the course of service; had he remained, he could’ve easily been one of the lives lost in the USS Cole. Encountering spoiled, ungrateful and painfully ignorant fools like this nutjob conspiracy crew – the polar opposite of the dedicated, honorable and patriotic young men he’d known as a sailor – awakened a simmering anger within him. Memories of horrific events like the Cole bombing and the September 11 attacks were never far from his consciousness.

A few feet away, Maddy called out to her husband, sympathetic to his turmoil but fearful of its potential consequences. He vaguely heard her cries above all of the commotion, prompting him to abruptly release his arm from the policeman’s grasp and slowly make his way back to his worried wife. By then, the officers had succeeded in subduing the protesters, while the cruise ship finally began the boarding process.

Ken encircled Maddy in his arms and held her close to him for a moment, relishing her soothing words and reassurances that – although initially rattled – she was indeed ok.

“It’s gonna take a lot more than some Kool-Aid-drinking 9/11 truthers to get the better of me, teddy bear,” she joked. “And they’ve sure given me something to write about on my blog tomorrow – along with RINO Whitehorn and the hapless Florida Republican Party.”

Ken let out a chuckle, then reminded her of their deal to put all of their problems on hold for the night. Placing an arm about her waist, he lovingly escorted her to the waiting ship, as the fiery sun sunk lower upon the glistening water and decorated the Vancouver sky with streaks of dramatic, colorful splendor.

2 Comments

Filed under Lifestyle, Politics, Pop Culture, Sea To Shining Sea, Uncategorized, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Chapter Three Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

This second novel will delve into more socio-political issues, reflective of the awakening of grassroots conservatism taking place throughout the country. As demonstrated by this next excerpt describing Madeline’s visit with a Canadian doctor, special-needs babies, abortion and socialized medicine will be paramount among them.

Chapter Three

“I’d advise a termination right away.”

The cold, clinical words hit her like a bolt out of the blue. She was seated across the desk from Dr. Harper, where blood test results had just confirmed the accuracy of the three home pregnancy tests she’d taken the prior evening. It was nearly 3 p.m. Vancouver time, and the long delay in being summoned to the doctor’s office had only intensified her anguish.

She couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt so alone, save for all those years ago in Florida when she’d let a newly engaged Ken simply walk out of her life, falsely believing she’d happily moved on. It felt like déjà vu all over again, except for the exacerbating facts that she was now pregnant and alone in a foreign country.

“I-I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked, praying she’d somehow misunderstood.

“Mrs. Lockheart, you are 42 years-old, and this is your first pregnancy – one that was never supposed to happen in the first place, given your medical history. We’ll need further analysis to know for sure, but I suspect that testing may reveal some abnormalities. You did tell me you have an older brother with Down’s syndrome, right?”

A shaken Maddy was literally sickened by the direction in which this conversation was so obviously heading, as she summoned as much inner strength as she possibly could to fend off her visceral reaction to his unwelcome advice.

“Is that your way of telling me there’s something wrong with my baby?”

“I’m saying,” Dr. Harper continued, “that you are a lucky woman, compared to your mother. Unlike today, 50 years ago we didn’t have these kinds of diagnostic tests; parents were just stuck with whatever they got after labor and delivery. At least now you have the luxury of knowing about potential abnormalities ahead of time, so you can prevent another life from coming into this world at a disadvantage.”

“A disadvantage? I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” she exclaimed, palpable anger usurping every other emotion as she fully absorbed the implications of his “counseling”.

“Let me assure you, Dr. Harper, my family considers my brother Louis to be a blessing from heaven, not some unbearable burden whose life should’ve been snuffed out for the crime of so-called imperfection. Even if these wonderful diagnostic tests had existed in 1959, neither my mother nor my father would’ve ever entertained the idea of killing their child—not for one second! And no, they’ve never considered themselves stuck, as you put it. How dare you make such an insulting assumption about my family or me!”

“Mrs. Lockheart, please calm down,” the doctor advised in a tone that was bordering on impatience and condescension, “I am simply laying out the facts as I see them. I wouldn’t be practicing responsible medicine if I didn’t advise you to make the right choices.”

“Tell me something, Doctor,” she pressed him, “have you ever even known a child with Down syndrome? Are you even aware of the incredible joy they bring to people who are fortunate enough to know them? If you did, maybe you wouldn’t be so blasé about advising me to have an abortion—something I am never going to do regardless of what the test results might show.”

“Do you really think that would be fair to your husband, a rising star in the business world? Think about it, Mrs. Lockheart. He already has two healthy children from his previous marriage. Why would he want to take on these kinds of problems now?”

A flabbergasted Madeline suddenly felt a renewed appreciation for her own mother, and a never-before-experienced sensation of truly knowing exactly what she went through as a young mother in her late-20s, when that insensitive attending physician walked into her hospital room uninvited. It had been mere hours since Louis’ premature birth, and upon closer examination, also been determined that the fuzzy-blond-haired baby boy was not the picture of health he’d initially appeared to be.

The doctor had entered Monica Rose’s hospital room for the express purpose of badgering her to put the child in an institution, lest his very existence taint her husband’s promising medical career. Though utterly devastated by the news, Monica nevertheless had the presence of mind to angrily throw him out with a stern warning to stay away from her child.

Still, as outrageous as that doctor’s behavior had been, at least Louis had actually been born. How incredulous that—without even knowing for certain if there were any physiological problems—this doctor would automatically pressure her to murder the unborn life in her womb, simply because of a possibility, a mere suspicion of abnormality. And though Maddy was literally in it for life no matter what, the least this guy could do was pretend to be optimistic.

“I can’t believe this,” she muttered under her breath, as she placed a hand over her stomach.

“Well, there’s actually more news to tell you,” the doctor matter-of-factly continued. “Your blood tests also revealed elevated HcG levels, which indicate a high probability of twins.”

Madeline braced herself as another tidal wave of emotion overtook her.

“T-twins? Are you certain?”

“Well we won’t know for sure until you are into your second trimester, assuming you decide to continue with the pregnancy. From what we can tell so far, you’re most likely about eight weeks along. Whether or not you decide to have an abortion, you will need to see a gynecologist to have the necessary follow-up tests to confirm the presence of twins. If that is the case, you are at even greater risk of genetic abnormalities. That’s why, all things considered, if I were you, I’d definitely end the pregnancy.”

“Well, I suppose it’s very fortunate for my unborn children that you are most definitely not me,” Madeline retorted, rising up out of her chair. “Thank you for your time doctor, but I won’t be needing your services anymore.”

With that, she turned on her heel and strode out of his office, restraining her tears until safely inside the luxurious confines of the waiting limo.


Leave a comment

Filed under Pop Culture, Professional Experience, Sea To Shining Sea, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Chapter Two Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

I will resume regular blogging about the writing process soon. In the meantime, look for excerpts from Sea To Shining Sea as it progresses into a novel!

Chapter Two

“Madeline is there any chance you could be pregnant?”

The words kept reverberating through her brain as she rested her head against the plush, velour seat of the limo. Bathed in the light of a starry summer sky, complemented by a gleaming half-moon, the Vancouver skyline unfolded magically alongside the glistening harbor, where luxury cruise ships awaited their next transfer of passengers bound for Alaska. But an uncharacteristically indifferent Madeline barely noticed the breathtaking mix of natural wonder and cosmopolitan panache as the luxury car cruised down Marine Drive—too distracted by the unexpected events that had just transpired.

Pregnant! At her age? With her medical history? How could this possibly be? Admittedly, the female problems of her youth and early adulthood had long been solved with a simple remedy—natural progesterone—but still, this was the last thing she’d ever anticipated. Although her last visit to the gynecologist just prior to her wedding had affirmed her overall good health, Dr. Steyling was quite adamant in her assessment that Madeline’s chances of conceiving and bearing her own child with Ken were slim-to-none.

While disappointed in the news, the bride had taken solace in the reality of her long-anticipated reunion with her first and only love – a fervent desire she’d previously believed had been lost to her forever, in spite of steadfast prayers and undying hope. When those prayers had finally been answered in exactly the way she’d wanted, all Madeline could feel was gratitude. If she was only meant to be a mother-figure to someone else’s children and not her own, she would find complete satisfaction and joy in that role, secure in Ken’s love, respect and fidelity.

As for her husband, his biggest concern was her happiness and well-being; although he’d hoped the window of opportunity would still be open for the two of them to make their own baby, just having her back in his life was an incredible gift in and of itself.

Maddy well-remembered how he’d held her in his arms and comforted her when she’d briefly succumbed to sadness and anger after advising him of the doctor’s prognosis that day. In typical fashion, Ken had been her rock, assuring her that no matter what, their new life together would be everything they’d imagined.

And other than fatigue, she’d had no other symptoms suggestive of pregnancy, although it was quite feasible that, like her mother before her, she’d never experience the nausea, heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems that often plagued other women. Wow! Pregnant at 42—not even ace psychic Anne Claire had seen that one coming!

Suddenly, a former governor came to mind, a remarkably fit and healthy woman who’d experienced the same kind of shock last year when, at age 45 and already the mother of three young teenagers, she’d discovered her fourth child was on the way. A devout Christian, she’d held firm to her faith when doctors determined early on that her offspring would be born with Down syndrome, though she’d recently confessed to a brief moment of weakness in a speech to a pro-life group. Although the fleeting thought of terminating the pregnancy had flashed through her head, the governor remained true to her convictions, eventually giving birth to a “perfectly beautiful” daughter named Annabelle.

Maddy well remembered listening to Anna Hardin’s interview on Talon Grant’s show soon after the governor had given birth, impressed not only by the woman’s significant record of accomplishment, but also her touching honesty in relating the story of her heart-wrenching “choice”. As the sister of a wonderful older brother with Down’s, Madeline had felt a certain kinship with her, a phenomenon shared even more strongly by her own mother, for whom giving birth to such a child had occurred at the young age of 28.

With a sudden, panicked thought, Maddy shot up in her seat.

“Driver! Can you please take me to a drug store before dropping me off at the Penthouse?”

There was no way she was going to wait for blood test results to come back tomorrow when there was a reliable method of confirming the doctor’s suspicions in a matter of minutes. As her chauffeur nodded his approval and directed the car into the parking lot of a nearby shopping center, she heard her cell phone ring.

Damn!

She’d been so taken aback by her probable diagnosis she’d neglected to call Ken as promised. A firestorm of insecurity overwhelmed her as she envisioned his potential reaction to the news. Here they were, just six months into their marriage, facing formidable financial pressures, an impending implosion of a lucrative deal—the procurement of which Ken had dedicated countless hours—due to circumstances beyond his control, and still struggling to win over his existing children. How on earth was he going to handle this latest unforeseen, life-altering development?

And what if, on top of all that, the baby had some sort of disability? Such were the haunting fears that plagued her as she tossed her ringing cell phone into her handbag and numbly entered the through the automated doors of the pharmacy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Professional Experience, Sea To Shining Sea, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Sneak Preview: Chapter One of Sea To Shining Sea

Just completed Chapter Four of my sequel, which unfortunately, is turning out to be a much more arduous — but no less rewarding — process than was Water Signs. While I won’t be publicly displaying the entire contents of the new book until it is available in paperback, PDF and Kindle, I thought it might be fun to tease my readers by posting Chapter One in its entirety. I sure hope you enjoy, and look forward to completing Sea To Shining Sea within the next few months!

Chapter One

Moonlight glistened on the tranquil sea as the taxi cab steadily cruised down A1A in Boca Raton. The weary traveler sprawled out on the back seat smiled as he took in the familiar, comforting sight; it felt as if he’d been gone forever, banished indefinitely to the frigid climes of the Great White North, without the benefit of having his most beloved companion by his side. This had been their longest stint apart since their marriage, and he’d hated every minute of it, in spite of the promise of an incredibly lucrative business deal.

“Turn right here driver,” Ken instructed, excitement welling within at the thought of his impending reunion with Madeline. Her passionate protests notwithstanding, he had insisted on taking a cab home from the airport, rather than drag her away from her lounge-singing duties at 34 East. While not entirely thrilled by the arrangement, he respected her desire to contribute to their financial well-being by employing her vocal talents to help draw Happy Hour revelers and late-night Friday traffic to the upscale establishment. Once a thriving business, 34 East had become yet another enterprise struggling to succeed in the midst of the current recession.

Maddy herself had been laid-off from her position as a content manager for a formerly prosperous internet marketing firm that catered to the cruise and travel industry. As creative as she was beautiful, she’d quickly set herself up in business as a freelance writer, editor, ghostwriter and social media consultant, expertly networking her skills at various local chamber of commerce and civic functions. In just a few short months, her efforts had led to an impressive, multi-faceted client list that included a romance novelist, a political action committee and a women’s health and wellness expert.

And while her income was steadily increasing thanks to these and various other projects, including her new internet talk radio program, Madeline jumped at the chance to sing professionally again when approached by the lounge-owner at a Delray Beach event. Although her marriage to Ken was blissful, as expected his ex-wife Erin was proving herself a relentless trouble-maker. From the moment the newlyweds returned from their joyful honeymoon in Italy—only to encounter two very hostile children who’d previously been accepting of their union—they’d realized the full extent to which their relationship would be tested. Singing was one way for Maddy to maintain her sanity by channeling her emotions into something productive.

Not content to simply hurt her own children in order to punish her ex, Erin had recently taken to playing the role of victim with the wealthy Boca matrons who comprised her favorite monthly business-leads organization, many of whom urged her to redress her grievances to a Palm Beach County judge. Taking them up on their ill-founded advice, she’d hauled Ken back into court on a few occasions to demand more child support.

As a result, Maddy became more determined than ever to pull her own weight and ease her new husband’s burden, eagerly accepting the offer to sing once a week at the club, with the option to add more appearances should she desire to do so. But her solo decision had led to their first disagreement as husband and wife. Though Kenny genuinely appreciated her enthusiastic willingness to add to their financial well-being, he’d hated the idea of work intruding on their weekends. It was bad enough he had to travel so much during the week—robbing them of even the simplest of pleasures like nightly dinner together—but  having to share Madeline with an audience, and thus lose even more precious time with her was downright depressing.

“Teddy bear come on, it’s not forever,” she’d pleaded with him one evening. “Look, times are already tough and with Erin making them even tougher, we have to do something. And I want to help you—I want to help us. I am your wife after all, and I am here to support you. The place still draws some wealthy tourists; between my performance fee and tips, I can make some decent money.”

They’d been curled up together on a lounge chair on the balcony off of their bedroom, gazing at the Intracoastal Waterway. As Maddy had made her case, she’d shifted her body on top of his, the better to look deeply into his piercing blue eyes. She knew she’d wear him down eventually with a blend of gentle persuasion and irresistible chemistry.

“Ok, you win again Madeline Rose,” he’d sighed, addressing her by her maiden name as a tribute to their courtship days. “But only on Friday nights. I want you all to myself on Saturday and Sunday.” His hands roamed through her silky, auburn hair as he spoke. Then gently bringing her face closer to his, he whispered, “Promise?”

“I promise sweetheart, only on Friday nights,” she’d replied softly before his lips met hers for another passionate interlude.

“Thank you!” Ken smiled as he offered his driver the required cab fare, plus a healthy tip. The man had been so courteous and efficient he wanted to tangibly express his gratitude for the good service. In these difficult times, it was even more important than usual. Of course, given the facts it was also 3 a.m., jet-lag had left him exhausted and all he wanted was to curl up under the covers again with Maddy, he was feeling even more generous now that he was finally standing in his own driveway.

Kenny rolled his suitcase behind him as he approached the massive double-doors just beyond the Roman columns of the front entrance. It was hard to believe that nearly a year had passed since he’d made this proud purchase, an impressive home that represented the culmination of a long-ago dream. Sharing the residence with Madeline as his wife made it even sweeter; he only wished his children could join them full-time, and not just when custody arrangements allowed. Every time Bonnie and Brian returned from another stay with their mother, it seemed Maddy was forced to re-establish their relationship, Erin having successfully eliminated all shreds of progress made during the previous visit.

He loved her all the more for patiently enduring his ex-wife’s machinations, but he was quickly tiring of Erin’s endless meddling. She had her millionaire Sugar Daddy; all the designer shoes, handbags and jewelry one woman could possibly use in a lifetime; and carte blanche to undergo any cosmetic procedure she desired. Why did she have to constantly undermine Madeline’s genuine efforts to be a good stepmother and role-model? Worse, why couldn’t she see the potentially irreversible damage she was inflicting upon her own children?

As Ken locked the door behind him and programmed the alarm, he reminded himself that at least for now, his kids were safe and happy. He’d spoken to them at length before boarding the Red Eye flight from Seattle, where they’d excitedly apprised him of all of the latest happenings in their lives, from baseball practice and ballet classes, to summer camp plans. He did cringe for a moment when they recounted all of the recent purchases their mother’s boyfriend had made for them, including diamond-stud earrings and Batters Box MVP tickets to the upcoming Marlins versus Phillies series.

While Kenny fervently desired a good life for his children, free from the obstacles that he himself had to confront, he also wanted them to appreciate the value of striving for a goal, and to experience the kind of character-building that naturally results from learning how to win and lose graciously. Now that his job demanded so much more travel, he feared somehow losing his ability to positively guide them at such a critical juncture in their lives, yet at the same time, he knew he must also provide for their material needs. And in a struggling economy, there was no way he could replace his current income with a comparable position that didn’t require flying to Vancouver three out of every four weeks per month. At least until this telecomm deal was signed, sealed and delivered, he was stuck.

Striding quietly into the kitchen, Ken pushed a glass against the refrigerator, filling it with cold, filtered water and crushed ice. Bringing it to his mouth, he took a good, long sip, thankful for the pure refreshment. Long plane rides always left him feeling dehydrated, but this flight had been particularly difficult, mostly because he dreaded sharing his latest business developments with Maddy. He silently prayed she’d be receptive to what he had to tell her.

Setting the glass in the sink, he returned to the foyer and grabbing a hold of the suitcase handle, lifted it over his shoulder as he made his way up the curving staircase. A moment later, he gingerly opened one of the white doors of the Master bedroom, his heartbeat quickening in response to the angelic sight before him.

Madeline was fast asleep; her auburn hair sprawled out across the cream-colored pillowcase and her petite hands tucked under her chin in typical fashion. She’d obviously been blogging again, if the telltale laptop occupying Ken’s usual place in the bed was any indication. Fanned out on the floor was Mark Levin’s latest book Liberty and Tyranny, and local a.m. talk radio star Talon Grant’s debut novel, The Neo-Traditionalist’s Tale, the contents of both she’d eagerly shared with him during their last phone conversation.

Kenny smiled as it occurred to him that this newfound life still felt like a dream, though they’d been married for six months already. And while it was true that Erin took perverse pleasure in every attempt to undermine their happiness, they were boldly facing each challenge as a united and very-much-in-love couple. The only things that slightly concerned him were Madeline’s recent complaints of fatigue, which she’d attributed to her busy project schedule and weekly performances at 34 East.

However, in her usual stubborn way, she’d vehemently rebuffed his suggestions to give something up as a means of remedying the situation. Ken of course knew better than to fight with her, notwithstanding his genuine regard for her health, but made a mental note to keep a close eye on the situation. Perhaps his latest professional development would turn out to be God’s method of forcing Maddy to take a break—at least he hoped she’d welcome it in that light.

He parked his luggage into a remote corner and sat down on the bed beside her, gazing at her quietly for a moment while she remained oblivious to his presence. When unable to resist any longer, he softly caressed her face as he leaned in and planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. Slowly, she began to stir.

“Mm, baby you’re home,” she whispered sleepily, a big grin spreading across her face. In the early morning light, her luminescent skin offered a striking contrast to her warm, brown eyes. She was a vision of silk and lace, arrayed in one of his very favorite pale-pink negligees; for a few minutes all he could do was stare at her appreciatively.

Then as if suddenly coming to her senses, she shot up in bed and threw her arms around him, intoxicated by the warmth of his body and the familiar scent of his cologne. “Oh Kenny, I am so glad you’re back; I missed you so much!”

“I missed you sweetheart,” he replied. “You didn’t think I’d stay away for long, did you? I couldn’t wait to get home and back into your arms again!” His voice was muffled between affectionate kisses along her neck, ear and temple while his hands roamed up and down her back, and through her satiny hair. Maddy lost herself in the moment, relishing the exquisite joy of another reunion.

“You feel so good,” she cooed, “God, it’s like you’ve been away for a month instead of two weeks. How’d it go?”

“It was interesting, to put it mildly,” he admitted. “And there is something very important I have to discuss with you Madeline.” His tone was suddenly serious, prompting her to break away to face him directly, her hands settled firmly on his chest.

“What is it? Is everything ok? You didn’t lose your job, did you?”

Ever since her own lay-off she’d feared the worst, in spite of all of her prosperity training. Though she’d been diligently self-employed as a freelancer ever since, she worried about Kenny’s ability to make the same transition in his line of work. True, Maddy’s blog and accompanying weekly internet radio show were also steadily gaining in popularity, but it would most likely take time before she could parlay these efforts into actual income. For now, they were strictly a labor of love, given the dire straits the country found itself in; adding Kenny’s valuable insights as her co-host in the not-too-distant future would be a fantastic turn of events, once the monetary rewards began to materialize.

Although things were admittedly a bit tougher now financially than when they first got married, they were managing; thanks to a demanding, self-centered Erin, Maddy was ever-increasingly determined to contribute as much as possible to the marriage. But the thought of Kenny losing his executive sales position was more than she could bear. He was such a diligent worker and talented producer there was no way the company could get along without him—unless of course they too were going under, like so many of the retail corporations that once enjoyed thriving businesses in the local malls and shopping centers.

“Shh, no baby it’s nothing like that don’t worry,” he soothed, gazing into her expressive, hypnotic eyes.

“Thank God,” she sighed, holding his face in her hands and tracing the contours of his cheeks. “What is it then?”

Kenny started to answer, but as he feasted upon her ultra-feminine form and reacquainted himself with her alluring presence—a phenomenon that still elicited an intense, palpable longing from deep within—work was the farthest thing from his mind. Noting that one of her negligee’s spaghetti straps had slipped partially down her shoulder, he slid it off completely, before tantalizingly trailing his fingers, lips and tongue over her exposed breast, initiating a flood of familiar sensation throughout her body.

“First things first sweetheart,” he finally whispered huskily in her ear, their passion escalating.  Maddy let out a joyful laugh as he assertively guided her body back down into the plush pillows.

In the stillness of the early morning, Ken gathered Madeline close to him as she rested her head on his chest. No matter how many times they were together like this, it always made her feel so alive and invigorated, as if nothing and no one could ever come between them again—not even his ex-wife, in spite of her best efforts. Maddy knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kenny loved her dearly, and that he harbored no regrets after his first marriage ended, a strange, long-suffering union that had been practically over from the time it began.

Still, she couldn’t help but worry that the inevitably and understandably rough transition period they were all undertaking—particularly with respect to her topsy-turvy relationship with Bonnie and Brian—could somehow deal a fatal blow to their fledgling, blended family. Most frustrating for Maddy was the constant necessity of having to start over with every new stay: just when she’d think she was making significant progress, the kids would return from Erin’s custody re-poisoned against her. Not too long ago, Bonnie had even accused her new stepmother of being the cause of her parents’ failed marriage.

Madeline had been standing at the counter preparing a nice tossed salad to accompany their dinner of steak and baked potatoes while Ken was busily working the grill alongside a chatty Brian. Alone with a preoccupied Bonnie, who’d just finished grudgingly setting the table at her request, Maddy sensed yet another forthcoming altercation, precipitated by the child’s refusal to utter anything but one-word answers in response to her genuine questions about school, friends and ballet classes. Having sufficiently taken enough abuse, a frustrated but patient Madeline placed the salad bowl in the refrigerator, then ushered Bonnie into the rec room, where she sat her down on the sofa.

“Bonnie, honey, it’s obvious to me that something is really bothering you. Why don’t you tell me what it is so we can talk about it?” she’d gently but firmly implored. A shiver ran up and down Maddy’s spine as she noted Erin’s icy glare in Bonnie’s expression; the girl continued to focus her steely gaze at Madeline, reflecting an undeniable and deep-seeded hostility.

“You’re the reason my parents broke up aren’t you?” she’d defiantly demanded. Maddy’s heart sank; how could she possibly explain the tumultuous events of the previous sixteen years to a child? In many ways, she herself was still mystified by it.

Madeline took a deep breath as she fought to control her conflicted emotions. Before uttering another word, she’d calmly reminded herself that her justifiable anger was best directed at the real culprit—Erin, not the confused, tormented little girl who was being so expertly manipulated by her own mother. Actually, when it came to Kenny’s daughter, sadness and a lingering degree of guilt superceded all else.

“Honey, why do you feel that way?” she’d gently inquired. Bonnie had remained stubbornly silent, her arms folded securely across her chest. For a few moments, no one spoke until the young girl finally blurted out, “Well aren’t you? My daddy left my mom to marry you! What else am I supposed to think?”

“Bonnie—no, that’s not how it happened,” Madeline replied softly, placing a hand on her shoulder. She winced when the girl immediately shrugged it off, but maintained her composure.

Determinedly looking into her eyes, Maddy continued.

“Sweetheart as your dad explained to you, your mom and him just weren’t getting along anymore. And that’s no one’s fault; sometimes grown-ups aren’t able to stay together no matter how hard they try to work things out. It was really hard for both of them to finally make the decision to get divorced, but it was their choice. No one else is to blame—not you, not Brian and not me. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you or your brother just as much as they did before; in fact, you and Brian mean the entire world to them. That will never change.”

The child had remained unconvinced, but before Maddy could say anything further, she’d heard the screen door open and in the next second, the ebullient sounds of Brian’s six year-old voice enthusiastically announcing the arrival of dinner. And when Ken entered into the kitchen a moment later carrying a tray of perfectly seasoned, well-done meat, Bonnie considered herself saved by the bell, immediately springing up off of the couch and running to the dinner table—but not before shooting a victorious smirk in her stepmother’s direction.

Temporarily defeated, a dejected Maddy had decided to keep the incident to herself, though it was difficult to maintain a happy façade throughout the course of their meal that night. The only saving grace had been Brian’s apparent eagerness to engage her in conversation, which Madeline surmised had been the result of Ken’s efforts during their father-son bonding time outside.

Later that evening, she had been surprised when Kenny returned from upstairs and announced he’d just had a heart-to-heart talk with his daughter before tucking her into bed. She’d been lost in thought in their heated swimming pool, holding onto the ladder and gazing out at the starry sky, unaware that he’d joined her. He swam over to the deep end and encircled her with his big, powerful arms, abruptly interrupting her musings and nearly causing her to scream out loud.

“Don’t worry sweetheart,” he’d comforted in his deep baritone, “Bonnie will come around—because I will not tolerate this kind of disrespect from her or her mother anymore.”

“You know,” Maddy observed sadly, “the thing that upsets me the most is how a mother could be so cruel to her own child. Yes, it hurts me deeply that Bonnie seems to hate me no matter what I do, but I am an adult. I can handle it. What I don’t understand is Erin’s callousness towards her own child; she’s the one who’s really suffering here.”

“Madeline that is one of the things I love most about you; your sensitivity towards others and your ability to see things from their perspective,” he’d whispered sincerely.

She turned around in his embrace to gaze into his eyes, which reflected his genuine appreciation.

“I love you Maddy; and we will get through this, I promise. Remember that morning at the Boca Resort when I promised I would always stand by you?” She nodded her head, remembering that milestone weekend when he’d asked for her hand in marriage.

“Well I meant it. We can conquer any problem that comes our way as long as we stay together.”

“Kenny when you talk like that, I really believe everything’s going to work out,” she’d softly replied.

“Sweetheart, the very fact that we’re married right now is a miracle in itself. We will get through this; just keep the faith.”

Back in the exquisite sanctuary of their marital bed, Maddy snuggled in closer to her husband, comforted by his warmth and masculinity. Although she still retained an air of independence, managing quite well for herself during his absences, it was always such a welcome relief to feel him next to her again upon his return.

But just as she was about to drift off into a restful sleep, securely in his arms, she suddenly recalled his attempt to break some important news to her before relentless passion had prevented him from doing so.

Her curiosity piqued once more, she asked, “So what was it you wanted to tell me before we got so distracted?” her laughter punctuated her words, as her hand slowly traced his chest. Beneath her ear, his heart was beating rapidly. He caught her hand and brought it to his lip for a quick kiss while his other arm held her close against his body. “There’s no easy way to break this to you baby, so I’m just gonna have to say it.”

“Ok, now I am really worried,” she replied, shifting in bed to face him. He stroked her hair as he studied her expression for a moment. “Kenny, please just tell me; this is torture!”

“Alright, baby, I’m sorry; don’t mean to keep you in suspense. You know that I’ve been working really hard to secure this telecomm merger with the Vancouver company right?”

She nodded her head.

“Well, the Board of Directors has asked me to spend about six months up there—actually, asked isn’t really the right word. The board won’t even consider approving the deal until I spend about six months up there overseeing their operations, spending time with management, making recommendations…” His voice trailed off while he attempted to gauge her reaction. She stared at him in shocked disbelief for a moment, just trying to absorb all of the implications.

“S-six months?” she finally blurted out. “You have to be away from home for that long? What about the kids? What about us?”

He let out a nervous laugh before responding.

“No sweetheart, you and the kids would come with me. They’re going to put us all up in a beautiful downtown Penthouse, with a gorgeous view of the ocean. It’s right in the middle of everything so you, Bonnie and Brian can go sightseeing, shopping, take a cruise out of the harbor…it’ll be fun.” He was offering his very best sales pitch but Madeline remained skeptical.

“Kenny, you know I support you one hundred percent and I want you to close this deal, but my God—six months? There’s no way Erin will go for that! Look at how much trouble we have now with local custody arrangements. And Vancouver is so far away! My parents and Louis are supposed to visit us this summer, and remember we were planning to spend some time at the Jersey Shore with everyone? I haven’t seen my siblings, or my nieces and nephews since the wedding, and—”

Maddy suddenly stopped herself, taking a moment to reconsider. Kenny just stared at her silently, simultaneously understanding her point of view, yet soberly aware of the reality of the situation. Under normal circumstances, he might have the latitude to refuse such a proposition, but God knew they were living in extraordinary times. Regardless, he was the man of the house and as such, he was going to do whatever was necessary to provide for his family.

“I’m sorry baby,” Madeline confessed softly. “I know how difficult this is for you and I will not add to your stress. You are finally my husband, which means I am standing by your side no matter what.” Her face brightened with each new positive thought.

“Hey, at least summer is coming up, right? It’ll give us a chance to ease into a cooler climate. I never did get a chance to travel up there when I worked for the bank. I remember how many of the managers would hop a flight from Portland after our conferences were over. They raved about how beautiful Vancouver was, just like you always do. So now I’ll get to see it for myself.” She smiled at him reassuringly.

“I love you so much, Madeline Rose,” Kenny whispered, obviously choked up. “Thank you for understanding.” With that he pulled her close to him and smothered her with kisses as the early morning sun streaked through the vertical blinds.

“So are you guys all packed?” Paula Lockheart asked as she arranged the final place-setting on the outdoor dining table. It was another beautiful South Florida evening, and the family had gathered for a farewell barbeque at Ken and Maddy’s home.

“Pretty much Mom,” Madeline replied, placing some condiments on a nearby buffet table. She looked up and smiled at her husband’s mother with a sense of wonder—this amazingly supportive woman had been a complete stranger to her not so very long ago. Now, here they were, bonded in real affection for both Kenny and each other, the respectful title “mom” effortlessly falling from Maddy’s lips in casual conversation.

Ken and his father were busily preparing burgers, hot dogs and chicken on the grill as Ken apprised him of the latest phase of his impending business deal. Patrick and Danielle had just phoned to announce they were running a few minutes late, but would be there soon. Maddy’s parents had been unable to fly down for the farewell dinner, but had made arrangements to spend Thanksgiving week in Boca Raton, when Ken and Madeline would be back from Vancouver for good.

“Maddy, thank you for being so supportive of my son. I know this is difficult for you,” Paula offered sincerely. “And I know it hasn’t been easy with the kids, either. My former daughter-in-law has proven herself to be quite vindictive. I must confess I never did like that girl, although I made it my practice never to meddle in my sons’ lives. I want you to know I am doing my best to get through to my grandchildren. What their mother is doing to them and to you is so infuriating!”

“Thanks, Mom,” Maddy smiled, “You have no idea how much your support means to me. And I think we’re slowly making progress.

“Actually I am shocked that Erin even agreed to let them spend two months with us in Vancouver. As soon as school is over, she and Bennett are going to fly out with them. After that, Kenny and I will have to go back and forth a few times until we’re finally home for good. Ugh! You know how much I hate flying—not looking forward to almost ten hours each way in a plane, but at least Ken will be with me.”

“I think it’ll be good for you to get away honey,” Paula continued. “You’ve been working so hard yourself, and I can see it has taken its toll on you. You’ve been looking a little pale lately. Are you feeling alright?”

Striding back into the kitchen with her mother-in-law close behind, Maddy opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a tray of sliced tomatoes, pickles and red onions.

“Me? Yeah, I am fine; just a little tired from juggling so many different projects. You know how tough it’s been since my lay-off, trying to at least match the income I made with my old company with my freelance work. It’s going well, but it takes constant effort to keep the pipeline full and keep up with the clients I do have.

“And given everything that’s going on in our country, I am feeling a bit worn out from the fight, but I will never give in. I am also determined to create a career for myself in the new media; I am hoping my blog and internet radio show will attract the interest of Talon Grant, so I can actually make decent money at it. And who knows? Maybe Kenny can eventually be my co-host? That would be so fantastic!”

Setting the tray down on the counter, she glanced outside at her husband and his dad, obviously engrossed in jovial conversation no doubt centering on golf scores and Major League Baseball standings. A contented smile formed on Madeline’s face as she turned back to her mother-in-law.

“I never get tired of seeing them that way,” she sighed, remembering the father-son duo’s tumultuous history and ultimate reconciliation.

“Nor do I,” Paula agreed happily. “And you, my dear, are a big part of the reason why they do have such a good relationship now,” she added with sincere appreciation.

Although she cherished Paula’s words, Maddy felt her cheeks blush at the elder Mrs. Lockheart’s suggestion that she’d played such a pivotal role in this much-desired outcome.

“Oh, I think you’re giving me way too much credit,” she softly responded. “They would’ve worked things out eventually, with or without me.”

“No, I don’t see it that way,” Paula countered firmly, placing a hand on Maddy’s shoulder. “I remember Kenny telling me way back when how inspired he was by your family’s closeness, and how much he wanted that in his own relationship with his dad. Being around all of you, even for that short time really made an impact on him. And it’s obvious what a wonderful job your folks did with you. You are an incredible young woman. Don’t ever forget it.”

Maddy spontaneously reacted by embracing her mother-in-law with genuine affection.

“You’re the best, do you know that?” she whispered. “Thank you.”

“I mean every word, Madeline. I am so thrilled my son finally has a truly supportive spouse who really cares about his best interests, and the well-being of his children.”

She paused to look Maddy directly in the eye.

“And that is precisely why I don’t want you wearing yourself out by taking on too much. I worry about you too, you know.” Paula’s blue eyes reflected warmth and concern.

“I know,” Madeline replied softly. “And I really appreciate that. It’s true, between juggling my client projects, singing at 32 East and hosting internet radio shows, it does start to feel like overload sometimes, not to mention all the rallies I’ve been attending.

“At least I got to meet Talon Grant briefly at the last tea party protest I went to, and tell him how much I loved his book. You can borrow it if you’d like; one thing about Kenny traveling so much is it gives me time to read.”

“I’d like that,” Paula confirmed, just as the doorbell rang.

“Must be Erin dropping off the kids,” Maddy surmised, before heading in the direction of the foyer. She opened the door to find Ken’s heavily made-up ex dressed to the nines in a clingy, purple low-cut blouse showing off her artificial cleavage and a white, spandex mini-skirt. Her blonde hair was caught up in a French twist, with fringy bangs framing her angular face. She held an arm around each of her children, who seemed disappointed that it was their stepmother who’d answered the door.

“Hi guys!” she’d greeted them brightly. “We’ve all been waiting for you!” Ignoring her welcome, Bonnie and Brian rushed past her to hug their grandmother, who’d partially made her way towards the entrance. Once the kids had moved on to the lanier, Paula continued to observe the scene at the front door.

“Thank you for bringing them over Erin,” Maddy stated politely. “I know this wasn’t technically our weekend, but we wanted to say good bye in person since we won’t see them for three more weeks.”

“Just have them at school by eight tomorrow morning,” she retorted sarcastically before turning on her heel and striding back to her waiting silver Mercedes, which was idling in the driveway. As Madeline closed the door, she was surprised to find Paula standing beside her. “She is a piece of work isn’t she?” Kenny’s mother noted.

“In more ways than one!” Maddy giggled, suddenly finding the humor in the whole dilemma. “I wonder how much her latest procedure cost her rich boyfriend; sure hope it’s worth it, having to put up with her sour personality!”

Paula laughed and placing an arm around her daughter-in-law, walked arm-in-arm with her back into the kitchen, both of them oblivious to the stares of a spiteful Erin, who’d jealously witnessed their affectionate exchange from just beyond the bay window as the car pulled out to the curb.

The soft melodies of Maddy’s favorite love songs emanated through the speakers as she made her way down the staircase clad in her favorite navy blue bikini, a plush pool towel strewn over one shoulder. The kids were fast asleep, exhausted from an active evening of swimming and boating with the family; she’d just peered into each of their bedrooms to ensure all was well. Gazing at their peaceful forms bathed in the moonlight, she’d noted how angelic they appeared; if only they could find the same sort of harmony in conscious life.

Ah well!

One way or another, she was determined to create a healthy relationship with them, in spite of their mother. Right now, she was looking forward to some alone time with her husband.

Kenny had taken them all out on the speedboat after dinner for a fun cruise down the Intracoastal, while Maddy had insisted on staying behind. It wasn’t like her to turn down such an opportunity, but fatigue had overcome her and she’d secretly used the time to take a nap, reluctant to raise any of their concerns. Ken had enough to deal with already, and she certainly didn’t want her in-laws worrying about her either. But when he pulled her aside after their guests had departed, suggesting a private interlude in the pool, she’d happily accepted.

Striding through the darkened kitchen, she smiled as she looked out onto the screen porch, which had been transformed into a romantic getaway by a multitude of glowing candles and several arrangements of her favorite red and pink roses. Ken stood there smiling at her, dressed in red swim trunks, holding two glasses of bubbling Asti in his hands.

“Happy six-month anniversary sweetheart,” he greeted her, his trademark smile lighting up his face. Overcome with emotion, she accepted the champagne flute with one hand, and rested the other against his bare chest.

Gazing up at him, she noted, “You are the most wonderful husband any woman could ever ask for Kenny. I love you so much!”

“And I love you, Madeline Lockheart. I know how difficult the past several months have been, not to mention the prospect of our upcoming stay in Canada. It’s not what either of us expected and I know it won’t be easy for you being so far away from everyone. I just want you to know how much I appreciate your understanding and support. I finally know what a real marriage feels like. For that, I thank you baby.”

Temporarily unable to speak, Maddy just wrapped her free arm tightly around him and snuggled into his body. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head, slowly caressing her back and setting his champagne glass back down on the bar beside them. After doing the same with hers, he lifted her up into his strong arms and briskly strode down the steps of the shallow end, splashing his way into the pool until they were both submerged in the warm water.

“Kenny!” she laughed, “You’re gonna wake up the kids with all this noise!”

Unfazed, he simply drew her into a powerful, hungry kiss as he leaned against the wall, raising her up until her legs were wrapped securely around his waist. She ran her fingers through his thick blond hair, while she savored the sensual comfort of his embrace and the feel of his hands kneading their way up and down her back. In the next moment, she felt the strings around her neck loosening as he expertly undid the bow that helped hold her bikini top in place before releasing the clasp behind her back. Slowly, he peeled the wet material off of her and she shivered for a moment as her firm breasts were exposed to the cooler air.

But a second later, his warm lips and tongue captured one of her sensitive nipples while his tantalizing fingers expertly teased the other. Engulfed by the warmth of the explosive sensations overtaking her, Maddy sighed as he reached up and worked his magic, still holding her in place slightly above him with one arm.

Just when she thought she couldn’t stand it anymore, Kenny pulled her back down his body, until they were both standing in the shallow water. She slipped her hands beneath the waistband of his swim trunks, teasing him with her touch until he guided her to the part of him that ached for her exquisite caresses. Maddy smiled as he moaned in pleasure and simultaneously reached out for each of her thighs. Nearly dizzy with desire, he managed to slide his thumbs beneath the elastic of her bikini bottom, skimming over the most delicate, sensitive parts of her until—emboldened by her reaction, he gently probed his way deeper.

She cried out in pleasure, having temporarily forgotten her insecurities about making such noise when the children were around. He whispered over and over again in her ear how much he loved and wanted her, all the while increasing the intensity of his activity. Losing patience with constrictions of her bathing suit, he stopped only long enough to scoop her into his arms and situate her on one of the steps, where at last he pulled away the final barrier to full enjoyment. Maddy reveled in the indescribable sensation of the balmy water bathing her, leaning back against her elbows while Kenny knelt before her. Slowly raising one of her legs to his shoulder, he kissed his way back up her thigh, gauging her reaction by the urgency and frequency of her moans.

Mindful of her needs, he licked his way up her stomach, torso and breasts until they were face-to-face once more.

“Do you want to move to the chaise lounge baby?” he whispered.

She nodded her reply as he then lifted her off of her feet and out of the pool. Wrapping a thick towel around her, he dried off the excess water and chased away her shivers. In the next moment, she suddenly encircled his waist and just held him close to her.

“Kenny, do you promise me it’ll always be this way between us, no matter what?” she whispered.

“Yes, of course I do, sweetheart. You know that,” he soothed, enfolding her in his arms. “I’ll never let anything come between us, ever. I know you’re scared about spending so much time in a foreign place, but I’ll be right there with you.

“Just think, instead of being far apart for weeks at a time, I’ll just be going to an office for several hours a day, and then coming back to you.

“It’ll be so much better than what we’ve been dealing with. And you can still do your work and write your blog. Think of it as a new adventure.”

Maddy closed her eyes and did her best to envision a blissful, temporary life in Canada. She didn’t know why she was experiencing such an overpowering sense of foreboding, but even in the midst of these beautiful, intimate moments, she couldn’t quite shake the idea that something awful was about to happen. She tightened her arms around him, unable to get close enough until her felt her shiver again.

“Ok, I think it’s about time I warm you up again Madeline,” he announced in his deep, masculine voice.

He carried her to the chaise lounge, her form still wrapped securely in the plush pool towel. He lowered her carefully onto the cushion, where she watched with passionate eyes as he removed his red swim trunks. A moment later she giggled as he covered her body with his and began planting kisses over every inch of her. And by the time they joined as one in the romantic glow of moonlight, all worries had melted away, powerless against the force of genuine love and endless desire.

The Florida sun began its ascent above the horizon, streaking through the lush, tropical foliage and filtering through the vertical blinds of the bedroom, where the two intertwined figures slowly and somewhat reluctantly awakened to the new day. Ken rubbed his eyes before blinking them open to the sight of Maddy sprawled across his chest in typical fashion. He smiled as he stroked her hair, remembering the events of the previous evening out by the pool and later behind the closed doors of their room. Knowing she wholeheartedly supported him in spite of her fears, and had so willingly given herself to him in body, mind and spirit just made him fall in love with her all over again.

He prayed that in the end, their six-month excursion to Canada would result in a signed contract between the two telecomm companies. Actually from a business standpoint, things were looking very favorable; it was the US government that could prove to be the spoiler. Based on many heated conversations he’d had with his Canadian colleagues, he knew if Congress didn’t pass the FISA Act when it came up for renewal in a few months, it could spell disaster for both this lucrative deal and—much more importantly—the security of his country.

Sadly, there were scant few statesmen left in office, only power-hungry career politicians who would say and do anything to placate their kook-fringe base. Then of course there was the negative influence of a highly biased media that was all too eager to do their bidding by feeding into the electorate’s fears of losing their privacy.  After 9/11, it was exceedingly frustrating that so many Americans casually dismissed the urgent need to intercept communications coming into the country from dangerous, foreign terror cells, as permitted by the FISA Act. Recently, Talon Grant had even noted the urgency of the situation on his program, now that there was a President in the Oval Office who was not only sympathetic to Muslim extremists, but hell-bent and determined to disarm the United States as plainly evidenced by his rhetoric abroad.

Ken sighed as he wondered for a moment what his life would’ve been like had he chosen to make a career out of the Navy. There was a part of him that still wished he could defend his country in that capacity, as so many of his shipmates had gone on to do. Some had even paid the ultimate price for their patriotic devotion, a fact that haunted him nearly every day of his life. Then again, had he made a different decision all those years ago, he might not have ever met Madeline, or become a father to Bonnie and Brian. Still, he knew that he would once again contribute to the preservation of freedom in one capacity or another. He cared too much about his country and the perilous threats it was currently facing than to do otherwise. Momentarily, he had to focus almost exclusively on business but that was all going to change in the not-too-distant future.

“Mm, baby what time is it?” Maddy asked groggily, interrupting his thoughts.

“I think it’s about 6 a.m. sweetheart,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head. “We don’t have to get up just yet.”

“Oh good,” she sighed, “I am still so sleepy.”

“Well, we both had a very active night,” he teased, running a hand up and down her back.

“Yes we did,” she purred. Then with another thought, she soberly observed, “This’ll be the last morning we’ll wake up in South Florida for a while.”

“Yes it is, but look at it this way sweetheart: we’ll be waking up in a gorgeous Penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean for the next several months. Seriously Maddy, you’re going to love Vancouver. It really is beautiful.”

“I just hope you have some time to show me around while we’re there; I know how hard you work,” she observed.

“Don’t you worry baby, for you, I will make the time,” he promised. “You have no idea how much I appreciate your acceptance of all of this. And I am going to do my very best to make it as enjoyable as possible.”

“I know Kenny,” she assured him, as she placed a few soft kisses on his chest. “Speaking of which, why don’t you go wake the kids up so they can get ready for school and I’ll go downstairs and make a special breakfast. You should spend a little one-on-one time since it’ll be a few weeks before you see them again.”

With that, she sat up and, reaching for her pink satin robe, tied it securely around her waist. He winced when she drew back the verticals, ushering in a flood of bright sunlight.

“Hey baby, take it easy!” he cried out in mock horror.

“Oh come on now sailor, you’ve dealt a lot worse than a 6 a.m. wake-up call,” she teased with a wink in his direction, before heading to the bathroom.

“It’s a good thing we’re on a tight schedule sweetheart; otherwise you’d be in big trouble!” he called out with a laugh before throwing on some clothes and heading down the hallway to greet his kids.

“I hate pancakes!” Bonnie announced as she entered the kitchen, dressed for school in a floral print sundress, her long blonde hair partially caught back at the crown with a matching pink headband.

The enticing aroma of percolating coffee filled the air as Maddy busied herself at the stove. She poured out the remaining chocolate-chip batter and it sizzled on contact with the warm surface of the frying pan. Expertly, she flipped the half-done pancakes over to finish cooking and piled the completed ones onto a waiting platter.

Unfazed by Bonnie’s comment, she simply replied, “Now that’s funny; I could’ve sworn I heard you telling your grandma how much you loved them! In fact, if I recall, she told me you ordered chocolate chip pancakes every time she and your grandfather took you and your brother to IHOP.”

“Yeah, well that was when I was younger,” the little girl clarified.

“Ah, I see,” Madeline mused. “Well then I guess it’s a good thing I am also making scrambled eggs and toast.”

Whatever,” Bonnie retorted sarcastically just as her father entered the room with a freshly bathed Brian, looking adorable in a pair of khaki shorts and a pale-blue polo top.

“Have a seat at the table son; I want to have a private talk with your sister,” Ken directed him, exchanging serious glances with his concerned wife. Maddy certainly respected the boundaries in terms of Ken’s right to discipline his children as he saw fit; she simply wished she’d had the opportunity to remind him that the child was feeling especially vulnerable, knowing it was going to be a while before she saw her daddy again. Three weeks to a little kid was an eternity. Madeline’s eyes followed them as Kenny put an arm about her and ushered her into the private dining room.

“Is Bonnie in trouble?” Brian asked with all of the excited curiosity of a boy his age.

“Don’t you mind other people’s business young man,” she scolded him with a hint of playfulness. “Drink your orange juice and I’ll bring you some pancakes in a minute.”

“Aunt Maddy?” he addressed her by the term they’d all agreed to when it had been decided that “mom” wasn’t entirely appropriate.

“Yes, Brian?”

“I love chocolate-chip pancakes. Thank you for making them for me!”

“You’re very welcome,” she replied, thrilled by his refreshing change of attitude.

A few minutes later, after Maddy had set a plate before Brian and poured some maple syrup for him, Ken and Bonnie returned from their summit.

“Madeline, Bonnie has something she would like to say to you,” her husband announced. The young girl’s eyes were still glistening with moisture; Maddy’s heart went out to her, though she maintained a calm, dispassionate façade.

“I’m sorry,” she finally squeaked out.

“Tell her why you’re sorry Bonnie,” her dad pressed her.

“I’m sorry because you went to the trouble of making my favorite breakfast, and I was rude to you,” she offered somewhat robotically.

Maddy crouched down to look her in the eye. Placing a hand on each of her shoulders, she assured her stepdaughter, “Apology accepted.”

She desperately wanted to give the girl a hug, but settled for stroking her cheek instead.

“So are you ready for breakfast now?” Bonnie nodded her head as Maddy led her back to the table. Their morning meal continued uneventfully until it was time for Ken to drive the kids to school, leaving Maddy to clean up the dishes and get ready for their new adventure.

“Is this the last bag?” the kindly older driver inquired of Ken as he watched him hoist a large, black expandable suitcase into the trunk of the white Lincoln Town Car.

“Yes sir, that’ll do it,” the young executive replied with a smile. “I’m amazed my wife managed to pack so lightly, given how long we’ll be gone. Of course, neither one of us owns many heavy fall or winter clothes, so I may have to twist her arm to go shopping in Vancouver once the summer is over,” Kenny winked at the man who chuckled at his remarks.

“If I may say so, your wife is such a beautiful, delightful woman it must be a pleasure for you to spoil her with a nice wardrobe.”

Kenny glanced over to the front entrance, where Maddy stood chatting on her cell phone with her best girlfriend Elyse.  He could barely catch his breath as he took in the sight of her, dressed in a chic black pantsuit—a blend of comfortable cotton and lycra—with a cropped, long-sleeved jacket and form fitting pants that perfectly skimmed her shapely curves. With her auburn tresses pulled back neatly into ponytail held in place with a rhinestone band; her rhinestone-encrusted fuchsia blouse and high-heeled black sandals, she looked like an ad for Vogue. Fashionable Brighton sunglasses completed her look.

“I am the luckiest man alive,” Ken smiled at their driver before walking away to retrieve his wife. Slipping an arm around her waist, he whispered it was time to go. She nodded her agreement as he ushered her in the direction of the waiting car.

“Ok, Leese, take good care of yourself,” Maddy urged into her cell phone, “And please, I know you detest technology, but jump on your computer every once in a while so we can stay in touch by email or instant messenger!”

Amused by their conversation, Kenny chuckled as she snapped the phone shut. “What?” she asked, feigning indignation.

“Nothing,” he replied teasingly, “You’re just incredibly adorable, that’s all.”

He planted a kiss on her cheek as the Lincoln pulled out of the driveway, bound for Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

The 737 soared through the white, puffy clouds, steadily moving in a northwesterly direction towards Seattle, the only brief stopover on their diagonal course across the United States and into Vancouver, Canada. Nearly seven hours had already passed since leaving South Florida, and thankfully, most of the flight had been incredibly smooth once they’d reached cruising altitude. Ken was a bit concerned that Madeline had spent the majority of the journey sleeping—highly unusual, given her fear of flying. He recalled her inability to stop talking, reading or doing crossword puzzles on their roundtrip honeymoon flight to Italy, in a successful attempt to distract herself. Yet inexplicably, this time she’d dozed off into a deep slumber before they’d even made it out of Florida airspace.

If this keeps up, she’s going to a doctor in Canada, he thought to himself. I wish I’d insisted on it before we left home. He glanced over at her petite form curled up against the window, his grey raincoat tucked in around her as a makeshift blanket. On an impulse, he reached out to touch her forehead, quickly determining the absence of a fever; her face however, was noticeably pale. Sensitive to his touch, she began to stir.

“Are we there yet baby?” she asked in a barely coherent voice. “We’re getting pretty close to Seattle; should be landing there in less than an hour sweetheart,” he softly replied.

“Kenny?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry I’ve been lousy company; I don’t know why I’m so tired. How could I be jet-lagged already?”

“All I know, Madeline, is that we’re scheduling an appointment with a doctor as soon as we get settled in Vancouver. I’ll ask my business colleagues for a recommendation, so you won’t have to wait an eternity to see someone.

“I just wish I’d listened to my better judgment and driven you to the Internist myself when we were back in Boca. We could’ve had a diagnosis and a remedy by now. You’ve been complaining of fatigue for weeks and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing serious, don’t worry,” she assured him, still somewhat groggy.

“Until we know for certain what the problem is, I’m sure as hell gonna worry about it,” he informed her softly, reaching out to stroke her hair. “You mean everything to me Madeline Lockheart, and it’s my job to take care of you.”

She smiled as she drifted off to sleep again, just as the jet began its initial descent into Seattle.

2 Comments

Filed under Professional Experience, Sea To Shining Sea, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Chapter Four Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

The following excerpt incorporates a bit of real life via my experiences in speaking out against 9/11 conspiracy theorists on prominent sites like Parcbench. As with my first effort, the entire novel is based on real-life experiences; however, unlike Water Signs most of which was based on my own personal reality, Sea To Shining Sea weaves true-to-life public events into the fabric of its fictional characters (who are based on real people).

Thus in this scene, Ken and Madeline confront an angry mob of “truthers”, anarchists and cult-like followers of fictional congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent (I’ll leave it to my politically astute readers to figure out the real-life inspiration behind that character). 😉

The insults hurled at Ken, including “stooge of the New World Order”, “communist, fascist pig”, and “corporate shill” are the same ones I’ve received as a result of questioning and criticizing the foreign policy, isolationism and blatant courtship of 9/11 truthers attributable to one very well-known, 20-year incumbent congressman who champions himself “The Defender of the Constitution” (recognize him yet, dear readers?).

One note to fellow authors and writers: because the events described in Sea To Shining Sea are mostly from public life, as opposed to personal life, it became necessary to make them personal for my characters. Thus, we learn that part of Ken’s passion and outrage expressed against the truther crowd stems from the fact that he’s lost a few Navy buddies in the USS Cole attack.  With respect to the FISA Act (with which I’ve taken some creative liberties in order to make a serious point), the US Congress’ failure to renew it leads directly to the implosion of Ken’s telecomm deal, and the loss of his livelihood — an event that will prompt him to run for Congress as the conservative, grass-roots upstart (a la many of today’s candidates including Ed Lynch, Allen West, Corey Poitier and Bernard Sansaricq, to name a few from Florida). On the way, he’ll encounter much resistance from the GOP good ‘ol boys, who will throw all of their money and support behind their chosen RINO, Bennett Whitehorn.

In other ways, however, Sea To Shining Sea is a hybrid of the personal and public: like Madeline, I too lost a cousin in The World Trade Center on September 11. Like Madeline, I also have a dear older brother with Down’s syndrome, and like Madeline, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a certain former governor for choosing life when tests determined she’d be giving birth to a baby with an extra chromosome. She’s also been immortalized in my book in the character of Anna Hardin. And I’m pretty sure y’all know who I’m talkin’ about, if I may paraphrase Hillary Clinton! If you don’t, you must’ve been hiding out on a deserted island for the past 1 1/2 years, with no access to internet, talk radio or television. 🙂

Seriously, my goal with this latest effort is to uphold American principles, values and traditions within the context of an entertaining, continuing love story.

As always, I look forward to your feedback and thank you for taking the time to read my posts!

Chapter Four

The North Shore Mountains stood resplendent and proud in the distance beneath the orange glow of the Vancouver sun as Ken and Maddy stepped out of the limo and onto the Marina. As a chill breeze enveloped them, he slipped an arm tightly around his wife, who was at once relieved she’d had the presence of mind to put on a lined raincoat before they left the Penthouse. May in Vancouver bore no resemblance to May in South Florida, which typically heralded the return of intense heat and humidity. But in spite of the slight discomfort of an unseasonably cool – even by Vancouver standards – evening, the couple looked forward to a few hours’ respite from all things corporate and political.

Alas, as they approached the impressive line of fellow fun-seekers, they quickly discovered that a few carefree hours aboard a touristy dinner cruise would not be devoid of at least some conflict.

“What’s all that commotion?” Maddy asked, noticing a rowdy group of at least 50 protesters standing off to the side, waving signs and yelling.

“Not sure,” Ken replied, protectively tightening his arm around her as they neared the scene. Upon realizing that the assembly of mostly unkempt, gothic-looking twenty-somethings – interspersed with a few elders who appeared to be veterans of Woodstock – were self-described anarchists, 9/11 “truthers” and anti-war activists, they let out a collective groan.

“Ugh, I thought these idiots were mostly concentrated in Austin, Hollywood and Seattle,” Maddy sighed angrily. “Where’s their hero, Congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent? Probably speaking to college kids somewhere in the States, calling for the CIA to be taken out. Or maybe he’s here visiting Vancouver on the taxpayer dime to further incite anti-American sentiment.”

Glancing at Kenny, she noted the palpable rage building within, evidenced by his crimson cheeks and stiff upper body. No doubt, gruesome images of the Cole bombing at the hands of barbaric terrorists – complete with the subsequent gaping hole in the ship’s hull and his friends’ violent, bloody deaths – were reverberating through his mind.

“Kenny! I know you’re mad; I am too,” she counseled in a firm, yet gentle tone. You know more than anyone how much I cannot stand these traitors. I’ve been deleting and blocking them like crazy lately on Facebook, but please don’t pick a fight with them. Just ignore them. Things are bad enough at work already; the last thing you need is to end up in the Vancouver papers as the American Executive who beat up a bunch of punks at the Harbour Cruises Marina,” she warned. “We both know who the media will sympathize with, and it sure as hell won’t be the ‘rich’ Americans from Boca Raton.”

He looked at her wordlessly for a moment before suddenly remembering the fragility of her emotional and physical state, and the news he’d yet to break to her. Surely he could summon the inner strength necessary to practice restraint, notwithstanding the fact that – in that very moment – he wanted nothing more than to teach the aging hippies and their lazy, brainwashed protégées a lesson they’d never forget.

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ve got it under control,” he assured her assertively as they took their place in line behind an attractive, smiling couple that reminded Maddy very much of her cousins Lyle and Daphne. Suddenly she felt a little homesick wondering what everyone was up to back in Pennsylvania. She leaned closer into Kenny’s chest as a cold shiver ran up and down her spine.

“Good,” she noted in a muffled voice. “Because I just want to spend some quality time with my husband and forget about all of the insanity for a little while.”

Madeline closed her eyes and tried to drown out the cacophony of angry epithets and hateful chants of “9/11 was an inside job!” even as the Vancouver police valiantly attempted to maintain order by enforcing a legally mandated distance between protesters and cruise ship patrons.

But in the very next instant, she nearly toppled to the ground in the domino effect caused by a violent, powerful wave of resistance on the part of the unruly mob. Ken had felt the repercussions first, instinctively holding her up while he fought to keep his balance. Enraged, he first inquired about Maddy’s state before sternly instructing her to move further away for the sake of her own safety. Then he returned his attention to surreal mob scene.

“Fucking punks! Damned cowards! How dare you show up here promoting your 9/11 conspiracy bullshit!” he bellowed, as an officer tried to restrain him.

“Sir, please – get back in line now!” the policeman barked at Ken.

“These Woodstock rejects who don’t know a damned thing about duty, honor or country nearly caused my pregnant wife to have an accident! Get them the hell out of here!” he ordered, undeterred by the uniform.

“Corporate shill! Stooge of the New World Order!” an obnoxious teenager taunted at Ken. “Your former president ought to be tried for war crimes!”

“You little son of a bitch; you have no idea what a useful moron you are do you? Do you know how quickly a Jihadist would chop off your ignorant little head?!” Ken shot back with fire in his eyes. By now, two police officers were restraining him, as the others fought to break up the demonstration.

“Sir, please, I am going to have to arrest you if you don’t get back in line! We’re handling this!”

Ken let out a bitter laugh. “Not very well, I’m afraid, officer. What the hell are these people doing here anyway?”

Before the cop could reply, the young anarchist cried out, “Even one of your own Congressmen knows 9/11 was an inside job. Nathaniel Trent is the only member of your government with guts to call it for what it is – just a bloody ploy to instigate two wars for oil and profit!”

“You stupid punk, you don’t know a damned thing, do you? If you did, you’d know that Nathaniel Ulysses Trent is a laughingstock among anyone with half a brain!”

“Nathaniel Trent knows Al-Qaeda is just CIA fantasy, created to take away individual liberty. But what would a fascist communist pig like you know about freedom anyway!”

“Lucky for you, you little dirtbag, it’s because of people like me that you have the right to spew your conspiracy garbage. I was serving my country long before your worthless ass took up space on this earth. You—”

“Sir, for the last time, either get back in line or I will have to arrest you!” the officer interrupted.

By now, Ken’s face was beet-red, his heart pounding furiously as visions of his Navy days flashed through his mind. Although he’d completed his duty several months before the Gulf War began in 1991, he’d still witnessed plenty of tragedy in the loss of several of his brothers during the course of service; had he remained, he could’ve easily been one of the lives lost in the USS Cole. Encountering spoiled, ungrateful and painfully ignorant fools like this nutjob conspiracy crew – the polar opposite of the dedicated, honorable and patriotic young men he’d known as a sailor – awakened a simmering anger within him. Memories of horrific events like the Cole bombing and the September 11 attacks were never far from his consciousness.

A few feet away, Maddy called out to her husband, sympathetic to his turmoil but fearful of its potential consequences. He vaguely heard her cries above all of the commotion, prompting him to abruptly release his arm from the policeman’s grasp and slowly make his way back to his worried wife. By then, the officers had succeeded in subduing the protesters, while the cruise ship finally began the boarding process.

Ken encircled Maddy in his arms and held her close to him for a moment, relishing her soothing words and reassurances that – although initially rattled – she was indeed ok.

“It’s gonna take a lot more than some Kool-Aid-drinking 9/11 truthers to get the better of me, teddy bear,” she joked. “And they’ve sure given me something to write about on my blog tomorrow – along with RINO Whitehorn and the hapless Florida Republican Party.”

Ken let out a chuckle, then reminded her of their deal to put all of their problems on hold for the night. Placing an arm about her waist, he lovingly escorted her to the waiting ship, as the fiery orange sun glistened on the water and decorated the Vancouver sky with streaks of dramatic, colorful splendor.

1 Comment

Filed under Professional Experience, Sea To Shining Sea, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal