You alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Kahlil Gibran
Image Source: Pinterest


Chapter 2

By Kahlil Gibran
Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude, and my aloofness;
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.
Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge, and my defiance,
Through you, I know that I am yet young and swift of foot,
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you, I have found aloneness,
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.
Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword, and shield,
In your eyes, I have read,
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be leveled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness,
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.
Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.
Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

Water – Iron 🜝

Fever from a battered body struggling to heal itself lays waste to Captain Rae’s nimble mind. In the iron-like womb of her escape pod, she struggles fitfully with vivid hallucinations. She is hunted and haunted by visions too awful not to be real. The afternoon rains come in torrents like an assault darkening the sky with the sounds of battle. 

The river’s languid turquoise turned a creamy brown and rushed up against the shore, lifting the pod from its muddy moorings. The rocking soothed Rae’s mind. The temperature dropped inside, cooling the sweat from her brow and body inside her spacesuit and helmet. With the visor down and the display dead, Rae saw a macabre world above her played out with angry raindrops exploding in random patterns on the Plexiglas cockpit and the rhythmic waving of waxy green jungle foliage in the background seemed like a vision of a saurian world.

Rae began to feel the effects of motion sickness as the pod bobbed and rolled in the currents picking up speed and hammering into stone and floating debris, flipping, twisting, churning in constant chaos. Someone screamed again.  Rae watched with discordant vision as a gloved hand reached out to the panel and flipped several switches. 

Ralph’s cheeky voice read off the results. “Gyroscopes on. We are settling into stability management, and at the current rate, the energy packs are good for 12 hours without recharging. Shall I monitor all the life support systems for you, Captain? 

“Please do that for me, Ralph. Rae managed to squeak out a hoarse reply, her head pounding from the sudden absence of turmoil but her vision still reeling. I’m so glad to hear your voice. Please don’t leave me again. I’m scared and don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, er um, Captain. I’ll take care of everything. Your life signs show you are suffering from a concussion, multiple skin abrasions from blast friction in your suit, and subcutaneous hematomas in the right gluteus medius and gluteus maximus-from the hard landing, no doubt.” Ralph droned in his best unemotional AI voice.

“What?” Rae asked

“You bruised your butt,” Ralph replied.

If a voice can imply a smirk, Rae heard it.

“Would you like me to massage the injured area,” Ralph asked with far too much eagerness than the rules for AI manners allow.

“Ralph! No. You are not allowed to touch my butt, and you know that” It was Captain Rae now. She was coming to her senses again; adrenaline fueled her anger. Ralph teased her back from the abyss.

“Therapeutic massage is not about the masseur’s carnal pleasures. It is for the patient’s well being. Please lift your Space Explorer mind from the barracks brothels and let me help you,” Ralph insisted.

“When I get out of this mess, I’m going to have a little talk with you about AI boundaries. In the meantime, I love you and don’t want you to go anywhere. At the moment, I’m a bit overwhelmed and need your help.” Rae talked to Ralph and adjusted her pod’s systems to best navigate out of the river without anyone drowning or getting short-circuited. 

Ralph complimented Rae on her thoughtfulness and river navigation acumen. He reluctantly agreed to keep his holographic hands off his Captain’s sore bootie.


A frond cut from a banana tree shed torrents of rain as Ezra watched from underneath at the flood breaking the silver egg from the mud’s viscous hold and carrying it downstream. He sat under the green umbrella, dismayed beyond his imagination. Ezra felt the gods were telling him this gift from Heaven was not his to covet. The River was too angry to swim across or follow the egg on its ride to the falls. He would have to wait until tomorrow to continue his search when the river returned to its peaceful mood.

The lone hunter pulled his thighs to his chest and lay his head on his knees. He placed his small shield in front of him. Although he wondered about its usefulness, the extra protection gave him comfort even though he hadn’t seen another tribe’s warriors in years. Ezra’s parang lay unsheathed at his side should the jungle cats decide they were hungry and he was easy prey.

Inner thoughts preyed on Ezra as the spotted cats rested in the trees without casting a glance at the restive soul below. He sat still in the storm and contemplated what purpose he served as the last tribe member? Why had he been spared? Was the greatest reward to be alone with the gifts of nature shared only between him and the wild creatures? Why did he desire companionship, and why did he pray so fervently that Tala would accept him as her Guardian? 

Punishment for all his sins seemed most likely the cause of his troubled thoughts. His tribe had abandoned him in death and were wandering dangerous paths unconquered except by the jungle. His medicine could not save his mother and father from the ravages of hard work and age sickness. Yet, they had left him a rich and cultivated kingdom. What had he done, except live alone where he must consume the beauty of living things to keep his dark life alive. It occurred to Ezra that he fed on the sustenance of living things that he could know nature’s soul and understand her heart. What a woman Mother Gaia was; beautiful, mysterious, majestic, and ruthless.

It was respect for his ancestors and their urgings that came as whispers on the wind that kept him reverent to their wishes that he lives and finds Tala. Now that she had come to him, she played all of nature against him. 

In his despair, Ezra heard his father’s stern voice in deep memory. “It is the female of all living things that decides on her mate, my son. The male dances and prances and develops vain gimmicks to draw her attention. She wants none of that. A woman wants a kind man who treats her as an equal. She looks for the man who roars like the Typhoon to protect her, and provide for her children she has gifted her man. She will bend him to her secret desires and recreate him in the image she sees in her third eye.” 

“Look at the girl who has allowed the boy to stand next to her. See how she glances up and smiles at him? She fits him into her dreams. Now see! She looks away as soon as his head turns toward her. She must never let him know she will do whatever he wants just to keep his attention on her. That is their secret; you must always respect their secrets and their ways.”

“But why, father? Am I not the next Chieftain to rule over all our people and lands?” Ezra heard his past voice declare.

“Yes, my son. You are that and much more. You must always remember that woman is the source of all life in the tribe, and you will never rule over that. The woman is the fertile ground that nourishes life and brings forth the renewal of the tribe. You are the rains and the sun that calls the seed to rise. You are the harvester that cuts the rice stalks that new ones can grow.” The voice from the past left Ezra to ponder more profound meanings.

Tala drifted back into Ezra’s consciousness. So, she plays this ritual with me. I cannot gain her attention until I prove my worth. Ezra got up when the rains quit, and the winds of the ocean blew the clouds across the island to reveal the cerulean sky. He prepared his camp with a familiar silence and ate some of his pig jerky. Twilight comes, and Tala will give me dreams. I’ll find a way to search for her tomorrow. 

Ezra dreamed of his kingdom in the mountains. Tala was with him; her smile warm as the sun on his face and her skin fragrant as the orchids that grow in trees along the river path. Tala was the eternal spring that brought life from the stars and a new tribe to Ezra’s jungle island. Or so he thought. He hadn’t heard Tala’s opinion yet and the words of a goddess matter.


But how do you stand to the blow once struck, and how do you battle despair?

Edgar Albert Guest, The Proof of Worth
Image Source: Pinterest


Chapter 1

The Proof of Worth
By Edgar Albert Guest 1881-1959

Though victory's proof of the skill you possess,
defeat is the proof of your grit;
a weakling can smile in his days of success,
but at trouble's first sign, he will quit.
So the test of the heart and the test of your pluck,
isn't skies that are sunny and fair,
but how do you stand to the blow that is struck,
and how do you battle despair?

A fool can seem wise when the pathway is clear,
and it's easy to see the way out,
but the test of man's judgment is something to fear,
and what does he do when in doubt?
And the proof of his faith is the courage he shows,
when sorrows lie deep in his breast;
it's the way that he suffers the griefs that he knows,
that brings out his worst or his best.

The test of a man is how much he will bear,
for a cause which he knows to be right.
How long will he stand in the depths of despair,
how much will he suffer and fight?
There are many to serve when the victory's near,
and few are the hurts to be borne,
but it calls for a leader of courage to cheer,
the men in a battle forlorn.

It's the way you hold out against odds that are great,
that proves what your courage is worth.
It's the way that you stand to the bruises of fate,
that shows up your stature and girth.
And victory's nothing but proof of your skill,
veneered with a glory that's thin,
unless it is proof of unfaltering will,
and unless you have suffered to win.


The early morning sun had yet to penetrate the dark shadows cast by the jungle canopy. Predators, sated by their night hunt, crept back to their dens or climbed high in the trees to wait out the day’s heat. Ezra moved along just below the mountain ridge’s boulder strewn backbone, looking for signs of pigs returning to their sanctuary at dawn.  He listened carefully to the crackle of leaves and the swish of brush close to the ground to ensure he didn’t become a  quick meal for some reptile or toothy fiend still hungry for a fight. 

Stooped with bent knees, Ezra froze like a stone that had not moved in centuries. He listened. Prey would keep walking, but a killer would stop when he stopped. The sounds continued below him. Ham and eggs would be excellent this morning, he thought. Ezra sniffed the air and, without thought, shifted through the jungle scents to the musk of swine. Heated air rose from the valley and lifted along the mountains’ slopes, carrying the smell of all that lived below while shielding the hunter from being identified long before he was seen or heard. 

The hunter crept slowly to a rock outcrop and looked below. A boar, two sows, and six piglets sauntered along a game trail oblivious to any danger. Usually, Ezra left the sows alone unless they were old with gray-bristled muzzles and many scars from battling with the wild dogs and cats that roamed the forest floor. The healthy sows would offer him piglets to live on, and he thanked them for the offering of their young. He drew back on his bowstring and hammered a piglet behind the shoulder with his arrow.

A ground-shaking boom startled Ezra near out of his loincloth as the swine howled and scattered in the brush leaving the one he shot kicking clods of dirt and debris into the air, twisting and squealing in the dance of death. The shaken hunter looked up and saw a streak of fire high above the far mountain in the cobalt sky. It turned and dove into the valley as two smaller lines of fire raced after it. “A divine sign from the gods,” Ezra exclaimed and pointed. The dying piglet ignored him. 

The two smaller hunter lights closed in on the prey. It turned toward the far wall of the mountain. Ezra heard the roar of the winged beast and the high pitched whine of the firelights chasing it. Just as the chasers caught the creature, an explosion of orange light lit the morning sky and burned like the sun quickly turning into a black cloud of smoke followed by a clap of rolling thunder, shaking the valley’s quiet from end to end. Ezra looked on frozen in fear and fascination as a silver egg separated from the body and sailed across the sky until it fell at the edge of the river in a generous spray of water some distance away. The winged beast and hunters had disappeared in a thunderous splash of light, and bits of stars floated in all directions cascading down to the river below, leaving tendril vines of smoke.

Kneeling beside the swine, Ezra begged the kill for forgiveness. “What can I do to calm your spirit?” he asked the carcass. Predator and prey sat together on the trail together. “It’s exactly as my father predicted,” he said. “He told me long ago that Tala, the goddess of the stars, will test me. She will come from the heavens on a mighty beast and appear to me as a monster. If I can stand firm and show my admiration of her is unwavering, I will live with her through eternity as her Dumakulem, guardian of the mountains. Speaking the prophecy aloud gave Ezra a shudder. He couldn’t decide whether to forget what he saw or seek the answer downriver.

For a long time, Ezra sat in a trance of imagination and memories of his father, mother, and tribe. Now, he is the only one left. Was this punishment for his killing of the animals for food?  He knew what his father would tell him to do. He heard the words in his mind. Ezra dressed the flesh and wrapped it in tea tree leaves to keep it fresh until he could smoke it when he made a safe camp. He scraped the hide and folded it around the shrouded meat and placed the bundle into his hunting basket, and began to search for a place to camp.

In the morning, Ezra looked down the valley from a rock outcrop and decided to find the silver egg that flew away when the explosion tore the hunted and hunters apart and scattered their carapace across the river. He felt an uneasy feeling that his destiny lay in the place where the egg-shaped bubble had landed. He couldn’t see it, but he would go where he saw the water’s edge geyser up, and the treetops broke by the force of the landing. 


The escape pod lay at an odd angle mired in mud. The cockpit was dark, covered in dirt and debris cascading down the Plexiglass portals like garden slugs leaving their trail of goo along the way. Inside, Captain Rae sat tethered to her seat by banded restraints. She heard her mother’s voice whisper in her head. “Sophie, honey, wake up. Come on, wake up now. You have to go to school. You can’t be lazy and expect to pass your test. Get up, Girl,” her mother’s tone getting more impatient.

Sophie opened her eyes to the world spinning. Her head ached, and she felt held down in a sitting position that seemed like she was leaning back with her head lower than her feet.

Ralph? Ralph. Where are you, Ralph? There was only the constant vibration like cicada’s in the trees back home on Eos. Rae wondered who Ralph was and why she felt so panicked that he wouldn’t answer. Rae held her arms tight to her body and screamed until her throat hurt and she begged in a hoarse whisper for her mother to wake her from this nightmare.


I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley, Invictus
Image Source: Pinterest



By William Earnest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be,
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.


The hum of thrusters joined the ship’s rhythmic shudder as it crossed the invisible barrier between the emptiness of space and the atmosphere of old earth. The ship’s AI computed and adjusted for a slow descent, sparing the pilot the need to worry about burning up in the atmosphere. It was a small, but necessary favor.

When the pilot spotted the southern tip of South Asia breach the dark horizon on her display, she spoke to the AI, “Turn due east off the southernmost tip and hold coarse.”

Moments later, the Captain heard the soothing baritone of the AI. “Turning, followed soon by, latitude 10 degrees bearing one-eight- zero and holding.”

“You’re such a good boy, Ralph. Remind me to give you a belly rub later.”  The petite body strapped into the seat, jiggled with self-amusement. Here it comes, she thought.

“Haaa, haa, haa, haa, haaaaah. The deep digital laugh pretended no formal air of dignity. Ma’am, I have no belly to rub, but if you sing to me again, I promise not to fall asleep this time.”

“You’re worse than a pirate’s parrot, Ralph.”

“Well, you are a rogue, Captain. Pity, no eye patch though”

“The tour of duty is only beginning. We both may need patching before this is over. That’s rough camping down there,” The Captain replied. The laughter in her heart came through in the soft soprano of her voice as she started to sing a naughty pirates’ ballad learned in cadet school. Ralph hummed along as they sailed through the atmosphere at Mach 3.

Directly off the bow, the horizon caught ablaze in blinding hues of stratified yellow, orange, and red. The sun burned through the darkness, giving the black void of the ocean and land a textured surface that reflected orange light on the face of mountains and low clouds with the majestic Milky Way rising from the fire of a new earth day into the blue-black universe.

The beauty of the earth held Captain Rae enthralled. She opened her visor and let the golden rays of the sun warm her face. A smile of deep contentment framed in an infinite pleasure hinted at the deep joy she felt at that moment. 

The Dragonfly shaped jump ship lit up on the nose, and the ornate name on the side of the canopy written in a beautiful script glowed as light refracted from the rose and saffron title, ISS Aurora.

“Look at that sunrise, would you?” She said in a reverent voice like one who enters an ancient temple.

“It’s one of the most magnificent I’ve ever recorded.” The AI replied in a solemn tone to mirror his Captain.

Gloved fingers hovered over the screen, making small adjustments to the ship’s scan for living beings. They headed for the ancient Philippine archipelago as Captain Rae searched her memory for the details of her mission brief. “The last known living souls made their stand there. This land was the country of my genetic origins. It took a lot of hard work and no little amount of pleas to senior leaders to get assigned to the genetic recovery investigation team or GRIT in military jargon for you, Ralph,” She said.

“Begging is an underutilized strategy. You employed it well, the cheeky digital Lieutenant JG replied. If my exceptional memory serves me, Grit’s mission was to search for viable DNA for research into the ancient heritage of humans. Grit planned to map the human story and perhaps learn how those that escaped to the exoplanet EOS, now called home, could learn how to diversify their genes without transmitting broken codes that caused disease and negative behaviors.”

“You are such a smarty-pants Ralph. Now, plot a course over the city of Manila and then set a left spiral turn to scan all the islands for hominid life signs,” Captain Rae said, returning to her adroit use of the scanner panel and command voice.

“May I suggest a good bar from my databanks?”

“No. Silly, we’re on duty.”

“Ah, dear me. A pirate AI’s duty is never done. Setting coarse to latitude 15 degrees, bearing four-zero,” Ralph replied with a hint of rejection in his digital manhood.

Idle banter occupied the time until a single blip showed on the screen. Captain Rae felt a surge of adrenaline that conflicted with her disbelief. Ralph confirmed the scan, and with excitement, she hadn’t felt since her teen years, the Captain ordered a slow approach for an optical identification.

Suddenly, alarms sounded, and the cockpit indicators lit up with colorful warnings accompanied by a number of competing buzzers, bells, and horns.

“The indicators show an air defense system is targeting us. How is that possible, Ralph?”

“It must be an automated system that was in sleep mode until we wiggled our fanny at it,” Ralph replied. We have a multiple missile launch. Estimated time to impact two minutes.”

“Take evasive action, report the defense system location to the fleet. And Ralph,”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Evade toward the hominid sighting. Use terrain for shielding from the missiles.”

“Evading. Hold on,” Ralph replied, and the ship made a sharp turn and plunged toward the ground. There was no need to tell the Captain that these were hunter-seeker missiles. They would remain aloft and circle until they picked up the ship again and then drill into them like laser beams. If he saw their evasion attempts were futile, he would eject the Captain and lead the missiles away from her. Tough way to grow up, kiddo, he thought as they plummeted toward a mountain ravine.

The Sad Cafe VII

Don’t go, I plead wordlessly. But I can taste the good-bye on his lips

Marie Lu, Prodigy
Image Source: Pinterest

The Sad Café VII

A love story by Holly Hunter and Hyperion Sturm
Common Ground
By Holly Hunter
The heart can fall like a suicide
spiral down like the shade of
midnight deserts
  cold as petals on an icy lake
a flowing grave of dreams
an echo chamber of pain
Let my tongue flirt like
a butterfly among
rather than polish my scars
debride my wounds.


From my window, a sliver of the moon casts a haze over the water. I can hear the rush of soft waves. Those creatures beneath the depths, do they sleep, dream? If parted, do they grieve?  

Down the street, I can see the lights from an all-night store. A man waits behind the counter. Cautiously he slips his hand under his jacket and takes a long swig from a bottle. A group of young thugs gathers outside the storefront. I imagine them harming the storekeeper.  

Distracted by the young whore taking shelter in a doorway, they laugh and whisper. Oblivious to her vulnerability, she sleeps as though she has never heard of birds of prey that swoop down with jagged talons, hungry for butchery. I watch intently in case I need to call out a warning but losing interest; they disappear into the dark.

Maybe nothing is real. Perhaps everything I see and hear is an illusion. I lose focus on the outside world, and the burn of you stings relentlessly just below the surface. I want to sleep forever, not give a damn about you.


The busy calendar of appointments and meetings no longer held David’s interest. He shut the book and rang up the executive secretary and told her to take all of his calls. He hadn’t been able to shake the unease he felt after his last few visits with Renate. She seemed to be drifting away from him, not accepting any of his ideas to keep them together. The last time he took her to the airport, she seemed a thousand miles away. How long had it been, four months?

Four Months Earlier

David stared out over the steering wheel through the dew-covered windshield down the narrow street. The old sandstone buildings on both sides rose straight up like the high walls of some labyrinth, swallowing his thoughts and forcing the ache in his chest to hang closer to his heart. The door opened, and Renate slid in and lightly perched in the seat next to David.

She sat silently in the car, hands folded in her lap and head down as if in prayer. David looked over as visions of their time together twisted through his mind. Now, all he saw was Renate looking down at the floor.

A tear fell from her long lashes and skipped down the front of her dress, disappearing in a small ring in her dress’s soft pastels. She forced a smile and whispered, “Let’s go.”

They wound their way down the cobblestones to the main avenue, mutual thoughts resounding in their minds like drops of water in a well. The silence between David and Renate was a chasm with no bridge across. Their reflective mood shattered as the car accelerated through traffic.

“Hey, babe. I was just thinking; I’m coming up on ten years with my Department of State job. I can retire early, draw a small pension, and be with you in London if you take the trauma center job.”

“Please don’t do that, David,” Renate said

“Why not? We can finally be together full time.” David replied.

“Then I have to look at you every day, thinking you gave up your career for me, and I’ll have so little downtime to spend with you until I get a more senior position. Renate’s tone was agitated, on the verge of anger. What fun will I be then? You’ll hate me for doing that to you.”

Anger, frustration, fear, another heartbreak; it all came pouring out finally. David knew not to push the point. He would never ask Renate to give up her chances at a career for the same reasons. Perhaps she was right. 

“I’m sorry. Forgive me. I love you, and I can’t think straight. It’s these goodbyes. I always fear it’s the last one.” David said, his voice tinged with surrender.

Renate reached across the seat and held his hand to reassure him. “I love you more, she teased, hoping to lighten their mood. She didn’t want to spoil their last minutes together. David, we just need the time to get our lives established, and then we can decide what is best for both of us. Besides, I much prefer you spoiling me to becoming a wife with poopy kids, a dog, and a closet full of mom jeans.”

Realization spread across David’s face as the vision of their last goodbye faded, and his office came back into stark focus. So, that was it. His desire for her, his push for them to marry seemed like the typical man seeking a family Renate wasn’t ready to accept. The exhale of air from David’s lungs was the exhaust of all his misguided dreams turning to hot ash.

We promised to meet again on our anniversary at the Café. I’ll back away until then and give her time to decide what she wants to do, and then, if she still wants me, we’ll work it out together.

I need to get some air. David walked past the secretary and told her he would be out for the rest of the day. She raised her eyebrows and gave David a sideways glance. Her knowing look stopped David for a moment. “Come with me, Gabrielle. I know a nice Café where we can discuss the affairs of the State.”

“You mean affairs of the heart, don’t you? One moment, I’ll get my things,” she said. 

The End.


This story is dedicated to The House of Heart and Holly Rene Hunter without whom this story would not be possible. The Sad Café is captured in several blog posts and poems by Holly and I was captivated from the beginning until finally Holly and I struck up a conversation and the idea to collaborate on an expanded version was born. To remain true to House of Heart, Holly graciously allowed me free reign to use her poetry and short stories as a basis for the seven short chapters. I sewed together snippets from other stories of mine as well, finding the common theme between these diverse writings that span several years. A poignant romance lasting ten years, A Sad Café, captures well how the tempest of love is the teaching of pain where in we find the true value of love that lasts through all the seasons of our lives. To love fully with an open heart accepting all the risks and weathering those risks is the agony of ecstasy.

The Sad Cafe VI

Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.

David Mitchell, Number 9 Dream
Image Source: Vladimir Volegov

The Sad Cafe VI

A Love Story by Holly Hunter and Hyperion Sturm
By Holly Hunter

In the hushed silence between waves
sighs fill the night as stars come alive
and the breeze is a soft poem.
Nude in the moonlight but for drifting
shadows the swirl in your glass keeps
perfect time with far off thunder.
I need to look away from your gun powder eyes
that lethal shot
before the fluttering of a thousand butterflies
betray me.
I breathe in the circlets of your cigarette and
the honey-sweet scent of willing hostages.
As fragile as fireflies we escape to the madness of
our minds where all we have to do is live.


London and St. Thomas Hospital was a blur. Renate rested on a secluded beach north of Saint-Tropez, away from tourists and local hawkers’ and their busy hustle. David had followed through on his promise to find her though she had never left him any direct address. His determination wilted her defenses as he always did. Now, she was nestled in the warm sand among the rocks and dunes as the salty air wafted on an offshore breeze across her exposed skin.

In a haze of contentment, Renate turns away from the ghostly faces of patients at the hospital, staring at her with needy fear. Gone were the empty whispers of would-be lovers seeking to replace her dreams with their own. It was not their love she wanted.  She glanced at David several times. Not wanting him to see her admire him, she would snap her head back if he turned. It was a game Renate played with desirous instinct. 

Shadows painted most of his body. The sun’s last glow cast him in bronze, and the play of shadows and warm light deepened the darkness around his eyes and cheeks, giving him the emotionless focus of a mighty predator. She knew he would prey on her soon. Renate hoped that all he took from her gave him the strength to come back for more. It was only after he left her that regret stripped her to bare bones, and heartache became the only feeling she could recall.

That evening, back at their hotel, Renate waited for David to collect his things while she looked out at sea. It had changed from a shimmering translucent azure to black ink. The lights from a thousand homes and streetlights lit up the beach, and the luminescent seafoam riding the crest of waves flashed like small comets dipping down to the sea. The deep hum of water lapping at the shore quieted her thoughts.

David had changed from a silly boy with lion eyes to a man of confidence. His demeanor with others was aristocratic, even charming, with impeccable manners. She felt like his faux Baroness, a kitchen girl swooped up in a nobleman’s life. Part of her wanted black leather, a fast car, and men when she wasn’t busy with more important things. She wanted her own life.

“Ready darling,” David asked as he wrapped his arms around Renate. She responded by lifting her chin and offering her cheek to his lips. Mmmmm, he smelled good.

“Where are you taking me tonight?” She asked. The hikes in the mountains to the icefields and waterfalls, jet skiing in a gently rolling sea, picnics at every beautiful vantage point in this players paradise had her heart enthralled. More than once, she stripped David of his public decorum and made love to him like a feral succubus, punishing him for all his pleasures and thoughtfulness.

“There is a restaurant up the coast a few kilometers. It’s the only building in sight. The mountains run right up to the back of it, and from the terrace, you can see the lights and sometimes the outlines of all the ocean-going ships. It’s quite magical once the moon comes up.” David explained.

“Do they have fresh seafood, I’m starving for a taste of the sea?” Renate’s voice lifted with the thought of another delicious meal. She loved the touch of savory sauce with fresh vegetables just right for a lady with her appetite fueled by adventure in the city, up in the highlands, and rocky shores.

“They have a nouvelle cuisine presentation of lobster and soup. I think you’ll like it.” David said.

The couple wound their way up the twisting coast road to the restaurant nestled in a carved out plateau among the ginger and ruby-colored rocks. The deep-throated rumble of the coupe David rented echoed off walls and rocks in every twist and turn. It felt like roaring among the lions as they eyed her on her strolls along the pubs at night. She luxuriated in that warmth rising in the pit of her stomach. They would not attack as long as her arm was linked with David’s. The girls, painted to perfection and dressed in their man killer dresses, compared themselves and withdrew into self hate. Her chin up, she claimed her man against all others.

Inside they sat next to a large panel window overlooking the ocean below. The night sky took on a deep azure glow with stars shining like bits of broken glass.

When the waiter came, David took care of the order while Renate was lost in her thoughts, gazing out over the ocean. She felt she was adrift in boundless darkness with no up or down or sides. The stars in their infinite patterns of brightness, brought a tear to her eye. Their vacation was drawing to a close, and what then? She couldn’t bring herself to guess.

“Darling,” David whispered to bring Renate back into the moment with him. He saw her quickly wipe her eyes and turn to him. Her best effort to appear happy and content failed to convince David. He felt her melancholy as his own. They both hated the impending goodbye.

“Let’s spend our last day at the beach, David began. We can pack a small lunch. A good swim will help us sleep well before we head back.”

“I don’t want to sleep, love. I want to be awake for every minute of our time together.” Renate placed her delicate fingers over David’s hand. She wanted him to feel in her touch what she felt. She knew he was mad about her. His eyes, words, and everything he did tell her it was right; he was genuine. He loved her. Renate’s only romance would depart again with promises for the next time. 

She felt comfortable that he would be in Paris for a few more years and her internship was up after the winter session. Life seemed to be everything she could hope for. Everything was perfect except a burning desire to answer to herself and pursue a career of her choosing in a location of her choosing. How could David understand that one thing that never left her even as her heart cracked like pottery overfired in the kiln from her obsession with all David brought to her life?

I can’t live with myself, and I can’t live without him.

The clink of plates and the swish of starched cotton awakened Renate. The food smelled delicious. The wine had a nose like subtle dried fruits, aromatic wood resins, and a little spice dust.

“Do you like it?” David Asked.

“I love all of it, and so much more,” Renate replied, catching the glint of gunpowder eyes and lips upturned into a promise of sleepless nights and twisted sheets, her bareness covered in sweet promises.