September 2016 Newsletter

cropped-istock_000048750328_medium1.jpg

What’s that expression? “Anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy.”

As I learn this craft of writing (I never in a million years actually believed I could write a book, yet alone a poetry collection), it is like anything filled with dis-beliefs, sorrows, bad reviews, no confidence, what am I doing moments, along with steady assurances and liking one’s own work. If I didn’t like my work I would have stopped back in 2011. When I reread parts of my novel I still love it. Sure grammar and punctuation have improved though still not perfect. Who’s perfect anyway? Reads a line from one of my poems.

I’m entering contests; why do this you ask? Because contests are a fun way to get people to participate. They propel you to put your best self forward and that’s not a bad thing et all. I’ve entered three contests this year for my poetry alone. From very small online venues to one long standing contest which has upwards of 400 contestants. The Poetry Festival had an actor read my beautiful poem then send the recording to me! It’s at the top of my Twitter feed. Look here at their site. Soon I’ll be outlining a whole plan for future works.

I hope to go a little mainstream as in entering my works in magazines. I just haven’t had the time. I’m finishing up a year long stylist school. Yup, my mother always instilled in me have a back up plan: that way you can venture out and pursue whatever you want in life. Pure economics advice from those depression era memories. She’s a better mother than she realizes, I’m sure.

My eyes are set on a busy and healthy year ahead. Back to working out daily, salads, etc. and maybe some golf! You know the score find a part time real job, be a mom again, write away after a vacation to the beach. My family has had to do mommy things this past year in my absence. I thank them for supporting me. Dreamily, I’ll think about Paris and other places to visit.

Follow me on Instagram kim_troike and Tumblr autumnquotes. I’ll be posting photography from my new camera. Photo above from Thinkstock Images. Thanks for stopping by.

Caroline Clemens

Hawa Chapter III

cropped-bc2a85d07afd2bb2daf87cb854225ea2bd537daded2c7912-96085724.jpg

CHAPTER 3

Hawa

MARIE LOOKED UP from the front desk in the main house, as she had just updated the reservation book. “Oh, look who’s here-my long lost sister!” Marie hurried to greet her, and gave her a full embrace with a kiss on the cheek. “Sweetie, how are you?” inquired Marie checking her out head to toe, adding, “You look stunning! Healthy!”

“Sister, you can cool your jets. I’m fine, Momma Marie. Now, where are all those kids?” said Michelle Lillie Volnay. Michelle had come from Paris to the Loire Valley to send Marie and Nicolas off to be married and honeymoon on the coast. Michelle, the babysitter, would look after the children with assistance from a nanny. Michelle was the belle-the femme fatale-with long golden hair shining amidst softly flowing waves which bespoke goddess beauty; but when she turned around her smile melted hearts. Her skin was a soft bronze with exquisitely formed facial features displaying dark brown eyes set above lips that were not afraid to speak her mind wherever, whenever, but mostly in search of that desired kiss. Slim in body but powerful in her stature and walk, one could just watch her and many did just that. “How many am I watching Marie?” Michelle got right to the point, looking around for the kids.

“There will be five, our three and two others displaced from Africa. They are our temporary guests; however, I do have a nanny on hand for their needs. You will be fine, dear sister.”

Michelle smiled, “I know, you’ve probably taught them so well, to be little Marie’s; well, I won’t have anything to do as they’ll just wait upon me.” She laughed. Marie showed her to her room, stopping by the playroom with all the kids. Opening the door was like entering another world, a fantasy world filled with tea tables, books, dolls, trucks and playhouses and of course children. The well light room had chatter and energy, children created and lived their own fairy-tales in every detail. Michelle smiled warmly, and looked at her sister, Marie was meant to be a mother in every sense of the word.

“Erika and Elise, come here.” Marie called out. “Say hello.”

“Hi. We have missed you! Are you staying? Please say yes.” Elise asked and waited for an answer.

“Baby of course, I’m staying for the week. Will you take good care of your aunt while your mother goes off and gets married?”

“We’ll even make you breakfast in bed!” Erika added cutely with big eyes. Marie then led Michelle to her room, a large oversized bedroom, which was probably a master suite at one time or another. It faced the front yard and drive of the chateau, and one could look out large windows to see all the beautifully colored flowers. Michelle looked out the window and saw a strange man holding a bouquet of assorted flowers, sniffing them.

She asked, “Who’s that?” Marie followed her sister to the window, and looked out at the man as well.

“That is my new gardener, a floral gem, but he manages the vegetable gardens and also the fruit orchards.” Michelle gave another look at the man below thinking she’d like to meet him. “He even makes bird houses and you will see he has put them on the walkway to the river.” Marie added this and turned to survey the room. “Let me know what you might need, sister.”

“Nothing right now, Marie, thank you.” She set her belongings down and turned, quickly exiting the room and stepping down the stairs to the front door.

Once outside, she walked directly to the man with the bouquet. “Good afternoon,” she simply said. He looked up and smiled to see who had approached him. He noticed it was the girl from the window and she looked magnificent.

“Good afternoon, to you. These are for you.” Raoul, the new gardener, a friendly man with wits about him was a hidden treasure. He knew more things than many men alive, having lived a very full life, for which he did not disclose any details. He took her in, her scent was lovely, a distinct first class perfume, notably a Parisian sale. Raoul was primarily from Spain, his roots anyway, but he had traveled the world so in essence, he was at home anywhere. Dark hair, dark brown eyes and tanned skin with long dark eyelashes and full lips; he was a strong man with lean muscles from working the land. His good looks had an added advantage with his mesmerizing eyes.

“Thank you, you are very kind.” Michelle, surprised by this courteous gesture, smiled and dropped her eyes to the ground; she wasn’t quite sure where to look, and she might have blushed, unknowingly.

“It is nice to know I’ll have company around here when the two love birds depart for the coast.”

“By the way, your Paris scent suites you well; it’s one of my favorites,” he said.

She nodded, and he winked at her before he turned and walked away. Michelle, a bit flustered, retreated into the chateau and ran up the stairs, plopped on the queen bed, feeling rather dizzy. Lord, she thought, will I survive with him around here giving me flowers? Michelle Lillie Volnay could have just about anything she ever wanted, except she didn’t want for much and had not figured out what it is she did want. Her parents had risen up in the wine production and bottling business selling their land profitably. So she rambled through life visiting this and that, grappling with wares and businesses; clothing her specialty selling in Paris at a boutique all her own. She was happy, just not complete.

When she woke from a brief nap, she looked around the beautifully decorated and comfortable room with: soft pillows, breezy curtains and pastel colors throughout, all making her feel at home. This room held several antiques that came with the chateau from Nicolas and Olivier’s parents, and one in particular Michelle adored was the music box. It sat over in the corner and usually it was one of the first things she did upon arrival. So she got out of bed and put a steel record on, and wound up the old box. She quickly turned to go set out her toiletries on the vanity, an antique which housed pictures of the family, and an oval ceramic plate, colorfully hand painted with flowers made in Paris dated 1926. The bed was a four poster, white with gold painted inlays which Marie had put a canopy on over the top posts. Nice touch thought Michelle as she eyed the pictures hanging on the walls in groupings with their golden frames. One picture in particular caught Michelle’s attention as it was new, that of what seemed to be Marie’s garden near the river Loire. “Must be new, wonder who painted that?” she whispered.

The next day everyone was up early. “Good morning to everyone!” Nicolas bounded in the kitchen, happy as a lark.

66 KIM TROIKE

“Morning, Mr. Groom,” Michelle replied.

“Are you ready to be Mrs. Marie Lillia Volnay-Lavalle? He questioned his bride to be.

“I’m so ready, let’s go,” Marie answered quickly.

“Okay, enough, the two of you with your sugar coated sweetness is too much for me. Go, be on your way. We will survive here at home. Kids, we are going to have a very good time without the parents, right!” She nodded to them.

Marie was dressed casually in white capris and a sleeveless dark olive silk shirt with designer watch and gold bracelet, a long gold chain coin pendant necklace, and painted pink floral earrings, adding a touch of femininity. Nicolas, excited as ever with his boyish good looks and ever present charm, was also casually dressed in bronze pants and a dark purple collared knit short sleeved shirt, shoes and sexy shades. As it would take hours to get to the coast, they planned to listen to music and talk in the convertible. Later they’d stop for lunch.

Driving the open road and headed west the pair relaxed. Nicolas settled on a station playing some orchestral classics as background music for their conversation. “Marie, I’m sorry to bring this up again but let me just say this. I may have to go find my brother this summer, organize a group to go deep in the jungle and search. I need to be sure that I’ve done everything I can. He wouldn’t want me to risk my life but he would want someone to find him, release him.”

“Oh, I can hardly bear the thought of him being held somewhere and this not knowing, is killing me,” she said.

“I think the air force is close, they tell me that, but you know they have budgets and times are hard for everyone. I’m thinking with their help I need to organize a trip,” he said and hoped she understood. She looked at him dipping her head to look at him above her own shades.

“Of course, you must. I would do the same if it was you.” She just didn’t want to lose Nicolas-he was the sweetest man she’d ever known and he adored her like his queen.

“Baby, the rebels, if that’s who has him, can be one tough group. They fight to the finish as in death, hardly any negotiating is done. Bloody at times, ruthless. This is of course what I’ve heard,” Nicolas said.

“Then you must find really good people. Do you know any, Nicolas?” she truly wondered if he knew what he was getting himself into.

“No. But in talking with the air force they’ve come up with a list.” he said.

“A . . . list?” Marie asked.

“Yep, turns out, there are guys that have been in Special Forces all over the world, and sign up for this kind of thing.”

“Oh boy,” she muttered lowly.

INTO THE VINES 67

“Besides, one of the orphans we have right now has a cousin still alive and Olivier was going to try and retrieve her on this last mission. Both of them have seen the rebels and their leader, which she has been drawing in her class. The air force special unit has been looking at these and trying to decipher the whereabouts through these drawings, by the colors on the uniforms and hair and other distinguishing features. It’s amazing what children can remember, and what they store up in their brains,” he smiled.

“It will work out, for everyone, except the bad guys, Marie.” Marie smiled. “You love him so, that I can tell.”

Smiling back, Nicolas told her how all this began. “I remember when Olivier enlisted in the air force because he just liked to fly planes, a hobby, and he thought he might be a pilot for Air France someday.”

He turned to say. “They saw something in him they wanted, a confidence of knowing, brains and when put in an adverse situation, he had a solution. He could make up a story on the spot, convincingly, almost believing it himself. They wanted him for intelligence, but he wanted to fly. So they put the two together and percolated a master at just about anything he sets his site on. They don’t want to lose him, but somehow they know he’s a survivor so they think they have time. But I feel we must act, time moves quickly here, and he is still in the jungle.”

Marie put her hand over his, and looked out at the countryside to the right. She could see the river, but soon they would turn and veer to the coast. Marie changed the music, she wanted to hear vocals, some words to distance the conversation and begin anew. This was her honeymoon!

Their cottage, halfway between Nantes and Vannes, overlooked the ocean and out onto Belle Isle. She couldn’t wait to get there, but first they would have lunch at café Azure in Guerande; they had dined there before and found it delicious. Toasting with a glass of champagne Marie dreamily said. “I do hope, and pray for his return as I see a future with all of us, extended family and all, together at the vineyard. To all of us!”

“To all of us!” Nicolas joined in. The two of them visited the local grocery store, and bought items for the week at the cottage, before driving down the road again. Marie could see the ocean and the sun was halfway down the sky, setting before long, but they probably had time to watch the sunset on the beach.

Once at the cottage, Nicolas insisted upon carrying her over the threshold and inside. The structure was quaint and painted white, she looked around and noticed a few items of color: such as the flowers on the table, a painting with purple tulips, and an olive colored wreath on the wall. The minimalistic look gave way to such pristine beauty, so pure it made one feel whole and good; no wonder why the boys, Nicolas and Olivier frequently came here to stay with or without others. It gave you a sense of beginning, an inception, to start over and go forward, move on. This place was their mother’s childhood home, which they kept nicely taken care of.

It was an honor to be here and on her honeymoon. She gazed upon the purple tulips painting and then to the real flowers on the table and saw a note. She turned to Nicolas, he said, “Go ahead and open it.”

Swiftly she broke the seal, and read the card. “They’re from Brie, Brie from Savannah.” Brie read aloud, “To the lucky couple, Wish I could be there to help you celebrate, well, not your honeymoon. Lol. See you in July at the vineyard, yes, I’m coming.”

Nicolas put away the groceries, wine and champagne and made them a small appetizer. “Let’s go watch the sunset on the beach.”

Meanwhile, it was playtime in the Loire Valley. “Today is the day your mother gets married to her gorgeous fiancé, your future dad! We will call them later after the ceremony, and hear their news. In the meantime, what shall we do?” Michelle said.

Elise shouted, “I know, let’s play fashion show!” Her eyes brightened, hoping Aunt Michelle would say yes.

“Let’s invite Raoul to come, too.” Erika added without hesitating. “He loves perfume so he likes girly things, I think. I bet he would like clothes, too.” The girls giggled, not really knowing what was so funny, but Michelle was laughing too.

“Ladies, just to let you know, men can like girl things just like we women can like man things. Remember that, okay. I’m not sure what your mother preaches but equal duties ‘dudettes’ all the way!”

“That is not a word. Aunt Michelle, did you go to school?” Elise was pushing her.

“Sweetie, yes I did. I just want you to know how I feel about some things, you can decide later for yourself as you grow. And I know ‘dudettes’ is not a word, I made it up, and it’s my silly kid side.” She laughed.

“You are crazy, Auntie.” Erika decided. “I’ll tell you what’s crazy, I want to go smell the collection of perfumes the gardener has in the green house cottage. The ones you guys told me about. Is that where he has them? “Michelle asked.

“Oh yes, he has them, and you will like them. Come, we’ll show you, and you can smell them.” Elise sounded so sure of herself. The other kids in the room looked at Michelle with big eyes and smiled; they had all been to the gardener’s cottage, she could tell. All of them wandered down to the gardener’s greenhouse cottage, knocked on the door, and were delighted when Raoul answered, inviting them in. It was magical and high spirited. He showed Michelle his collection, and she tried a couple on; as he said no point in trying more than two or three, otherwise you spoil all of them. He was right about that, actually that was pretty good philosophy for most anything in life.

“Raoul, these are good, they are so fine,” she said and her eyes were big in amazement.

“Thank you kindly, I’ve been working hard at it, learning as I go.” They thanked him, and headed back up to the house.

“Oh, we forgot to ask him about the fashion show.” Erika pointed out.

“That’s okay. We’ll write an invitation, and ask him to dinner and the show; we’ll make it a party for tonight. Let’s go call your mother, and see how her day has been.” Michelle seemed rather delighted.

“Marie?” Michelle called out. The connection was horrible.

“Michelle, yes it’s me. I’m here. Can you hear me, now?” Marie kept trying. Marie went on and on about how perfect the cottage and beach were as they went for long walks in the ocean’s surf. The weather was cooperating and she and Nicolas were eating way too much.

“Marie, the children want to speak to you.” Marie practically wept with joy when she spoke to her girls.

“Sweeties, we will have a ceremony at the vineyard with you both in attendance and the little ones, too, okay?”

“Yes mom. Have fun. See you soon.” Elise was at ease.

“Marie, one more thing, a letter came today from the French Embassy. Would you like me to read it to you?”

“I would but I’d like to save it for tomorrow after our wedding. I don’t want anything to ruin the ceremony. Read it, if you like, but tell me about it tomorrow.” Marie did not want today spoiled, it could wait because what could she do, nothing at this point.

Michelle and all the children gathered in the cooking school kitchen. She had one of the twins write out an invitation and the other one deliver it. She turned her iPod on and instructed one of the children on how to select music. She instructed the others to pull out the recipes and pick out a few for tonight. She decided if they were going to put something like this on they might need a few more guests. Marie had told her to invite the guests at the cottages one night as she liked to do this once during their week long stay. So they made out a couple more invites, and took them to the cottages that were rented for the week. The more the merrier. Michelle had the nanny and a cook help her with the kitchen duties in gathering the supplies. They all grouped together, and then divided off to make their part. Once done and cooking, they set off to the closets to find the gowns they would model tonight.

“Miss Michelle, this fun.” One of the orphans told her in her new English.

“Yes, this is fun. What is your name?” Michelle was amused that she could speak so well.

“Name? Jackie, nice meets you.” She beamed.

“Cousin, Africa. Missing.” She ran off, and Michelle watched her dance around. After the kitchen prep was done, the clothes were gathered, and the music was selected; they set the large dining table, not quite sure how many would show up but wanting to be prepared. And prepared they were. This was going to be like a fancy tea party, a festive occasion. Raoul showed up an hour early with a special bottle of wine, homemade lemonade and iced tea mixed together and helping hands.

“Flowers! Flowers! We need flowers, Raoul!” Elise shouted at the top of her lungs.

“We forgot the centerpiece.”

“No problem, let’s go do it now.” He left with Elise to get some flowers from the garden.

At six o’clock an older couple arrived in the double story front foyer, and the children greeted them, and told them where to go for ‘happy hour’ which was the back covered porch overlooking the gardens. Appetizers and wine were served there as the iPod music played the children’s selections; a song by a young heartthrob along with an animated movie soundtrack, and even a couple rap songs rounded out with a few oldies from the 30’s n 40’s. A mother and daughter arrived as did two guys who said they were trekking around Europe this summer by bicycle. The guests mingled, and introduced themselves with their stories and plans. The total number for dinner was thirteen, eight adults and five kids.

All assembled at the fancy dining table promptly at seven as Michelle, Elise and Erika waited on the guests. The nanny and cook assisted also in the kitchen prep so the three could serve everyone. The twins were having fun waiting on their guests, and being polite taking their drink orders and preferred main course selection. This was downright fancy observed the guests from the cottages. What a delight! Spinach salad with strawberries, blueberries and walnuts with vinaigrette was served to all, and the main dishes were a choice between chicken parmesan with a side of spaghetti or stuffed pork chops, both served with cauliflower, celery and zucchini gratin. Crepes and a peach tart with ice cream were available for dessert. When it came time for dessert, all the kids went into the kitchen to make it, rolling up the crepes and adding brown sugar and cinnamon or cutting the fruit tart, then serving it to the dinner guests. The adults did the clean up so the kids could put together their fashion show; the older ones helped the younger ones to get dressed. They laughed and hurriedly tried on all sorts of gowns and dress up play-clothes Marie had in a special closet for this sort of thing.

Erika was the announcer. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our fashion show for the summer of 2012. Please give a round of applause for every model. Here we go . . .”

One by one out they came in silk and taffeta princess style gowns, native style wear, and island wear. The littlest ones even had a dinosaur and lion outfit to come out in. The music was playing loud, but Erika’s voice was also loud and clear. Thanks to some microphone, probably made for adult karaoke, she sounded just right.

Later on when all the kids were put to bed and the company had departed, Michelle and Raoul stepped out to the back porch. “To you Michelle, the best babysitter around, the most fun for sure. I enjoyed every moment, and so did your guests.”

“Thank you, for being the perfect gentlemen, a wonderful accompaniment to my family of six!” she said graciously.

“I’d like to do something for you when you have time, maybe tomorrow?” he kindly asked.

“Yes,” she answered. She looked at him sweetly and smiled. “That would be nice.”

At the cottage on the coast … The wedded couple greeted each other in the morning. “Good morning, Mrs. Volnay-Lavalle!”

“Good morning, Mr. Volnay-Lavalle!”

“I think the twins will plan a party for us. What do you think?” Marie asked.

“Whatever they decide will be perfect.” Nicolas was as good as they come.

“Good. We must call Michelle or text her because she has received a letter from the French Embassy. I wanted to tell you but I had her hold it off until today, after our wedding.” Marie informed Nicolas.

“Okay, let’s find out.” Marie hit the speaker button and let Michelle read the letter aloud.

Marie and Nicholas Volnay-Lavalle,

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. We wish you well. This letter is directed to you both as you have assisted us graciously in your services for the children we are helping. This mission has been a diplomacy mission for several years between countries which are friendly. Unfortunately, someone has taken advantage of Olivier’s expertise and mission’s and most likely has held him captive. We will not give out all the details, but he has been seen alive.

Nicolas, upon return from your honeymoon, please come to the embassy and we will discuss the next step. I have arranged a private citizen willing to assist you with the air forces help in these matters.

Thank you. See you soon.

Respectfully,

Lieutenant Gerald de Toulouse

Marie gave a worried look to Nicolas and they hugged.

“Thank you Michelle!”

Somewhere in the Congo, Olivier was held captive. He’d never seen the person in charge of all this, but believed he wanted something from him. Otherwise, they would have killed him long ago. The rain forest, a thick jungle, was frankly really getting on his nerves, too many sounds. He’d become thin, having lost probably twenty pounds, he guessed, though food was plentiful now with all the fishing. He figured they’d grown tired of him and the camp decided to let him fish, after all he was in the middle of the jungle, they knew it and he knew it. Where was he going to run?

His young cohort was a girl named Hawa, who took him to the river every day to fish. She knew her way around, and their friendship in captivity developed. She said that Olivier saved her cousin in a desert storm way up north when they were trekking to find a village for food. He didn’t recognize her, but he did know who she was talking about, and found it rather incredible. Could it be the one he was looking for, way down here in the Congo? No, but it makes sense. That is why he is here, he has planes and supplies, which they want, which they know about through his desert missions. She said she was taken after he had rescued her cousin and she was with another family helping out, as her parents were dead. They told her about you, describing Olivier, and she heard the men talking about what they wanted. So, Olivier and Hawa, who fished and had loads of information, became friends, comrades in disguise; finding a way to communicate through looks, colors, descriptions and few words. She wanted to be with her cousin and Olivier wanted out of this place away from captivity. He knew things were ramping up as he’d seen a lot of activity lately, discussions about him, finger pointing and looks. He figured the directive had been given. The little girl had given him a few looks this week, which he couldn’t quite figure out, like she was sad or trying to figure something out. He knew one thing he was coming back for her as soon as he could, so he could reunite her with her sister at the vineyard. Day after day, it had been a long eight months, and he hoped something would happen soon. His planes were grounded somewhere on a strip near

INTO THE VINES 73

the base of a mountain, he estimated not too far from here. The little girl had signaled to him by a look and pointing of her finger, like she knew.

One day in the mud by the river bank she drew him what seemed like a map, pointing to a bird like display and he took this as the planes, as she had drawn two birds. For the past month every day Hawa and him were allowed to fish, almost alone as the guard would walk along the edge or retreat into the dense jungle back to the cabins, probably to sleep. This gave him alone time with her. He talked, and drew a few pictures himself telling her of his planes. She seemed very interested in his planes, and smiled when he told her what they could do; how far they could go over water, such as the ocean and even the desert. He explained this in sun positions in the sky and the moons. The more they were together the less was their language barrier.

Fishing became a solace for both of them.

Early one morning in what Olivier figured according to his calculations to be the month of June, Hawa, and him set out to go fishing. The guard acknowledged them, and mentioned to the little girl this was the final day. He caught the glances and stares, not understanding the language, and could tell by Hawa’s demeanor. With a determined will about her she drew him a scene in the mud. The rains two days before had swelled the river and then settled, leaving loads of fresh mud. Fishing was going to be good that day. He noticed pelicans, flamingos and seagulls gathered about; the fishing today would bring a huge dinner. He had seen his copilot and the other two pilots walking to a hut at the end of the row last week. They kept them apart but he had seen them, if he ever got the chance to depart here, and find his planes he would get them out also.

The guard stood on the eastern bank watching as Olivier, and the little girl paddled their flatbed raft across to the other side to fish where it was slightly deeper. Once on the other side, with the overhead sun blazing hot, the two cooled off with some water from camp. The little girl and her blue eyes smiled at him and she began to draw out her plan using the sun and the moon and mountains with arrows and birds and keys.

Keys, he noticed, figuring the guards keys and then he knew. Her expression told him everything, that night it would happen. He wondered though about his pilots and she drew one bird and two men and a third man with a big gun, the guard he thought. He drew her a map this time, hinting he would be back to get her, drawing two full moons and his bird hoping she would understand. She smiled and winked at him, nodding her head that she understood. He smiled.

After dinner he was sent to his hut, and locked in by the guard. The reason he was allowed to walk about during the day, he figured, where was he going to run with no supplies, no direction? It would be suicide to even attempt to run away in this jungle with no weapons or communication. The mountains alone looked treacherous, not to mention the wild animals lurking around every tree.

A couple hours after the sunset, he was released, and told to gather his items, of which he had none. He had shoes and clothes and a small bag from his plane, which usually held a weapon but they had confiscated that eight months ago. The guard, his copilot, two guides and himself walked out into the night, and headed in what he presumed to be the direction of his plane. At least this was a direction towards freedom, even if the guides, and the guard had weapons at their disposal and not afraid to use them. But they needed him and this was his ticket, to escape this captivity. He wanted to see his brother and his wife,

Marie as they were probably married by now. Daniela, he thought of her and missed her. She was probably devastated when she lost contact with him. He hated to put her through that. He liked her and wanted to get to know her better; this thought lightened his mood and brought a slight smile to his burdened face. He could taste freedom he thought, as he licked his salty lips, and blinked his eyes to see better in the night. He must remember how to get back to Hawa and his pilots from the other plane. Once he was in the air, he would know where he was. He had been drugged and carried from the plane initially eight months ago, that is why he had no idea of the planes whereabouts.

Why were we flying at night? He thought about that and could not conclude any ideas. About twenty or thirty minutes later they arrived at the plane, hidden under dense brush so as not to be visible from the air. What were these people doing and who were they hiding from? He had not a clue. His plane was so close, all this time. The little girl hinted at its closeness, but he had the feeling she didn’t know which direction either, or else she would have drawn the map for him to escape. He and his copilot were instructed by the guard to prepare the plane as it had already been fueled.

Michelle put her phone down, relieved that Marie and Nicolas seemed pleased and that something was imminent, possibly good news would be forthcoming. Michelle ran out of the main house to find the twins, and her new friend Raoul. She wanted to share this sort of good news. The kids were playing duck duck goose with Raoul and the other children. Something about children and their resilience, she could tell kids overcame tragedy much easier; well, maybe not easier just faster. They moved on quickly, rapidly, more so than adults. Maybe she was giving herself advice here, Michelle, let go of the excess baggage and live a little. What are you afraid of? The nanny of the orphan children invited all the kids to a pizza party with games down at the cottage by the river. Raoul had invited Michelle to a special dinner with him at his cottage as he wanted to show her his collection of perfumes.

Delighted at this invitation, Michelle donned her newest long length casual resort type dress. It has a special colorful flowered cross chest strapped yoke on a black background, and bordered with a braid that resembled a necklace. The garden green with light rose flowers pattern in silk and contrasted with a black background yielded her beauty with bronzed flawless skin. Her long honey blond hair cascaded down past her mostly bare shoulders. She slipped on comfortable gold flat shoes and set out into the early night. Barely containing her excitement, she hurried to the cottage. Raoul and Michelle tried out a few of his perfumes, and laughed as they walked around his greenhouse.

“Come, it’s time for dinner. Are you hungry?” Raoul had made her an artichoke and goat cheese calzone with marinara on the side. He had cooked it on his wood burning stove and served it up with a bottle of wine, a Shiraz with hints of cherry.

Michelle thought she had died and gone to heaven. “You are so talented Raoul, cooking over a fire stove and making it from scratch, just like that.” Later they shared slices of cherry pie he had made just for them. Marie thought to herself she could really like him and whispered, “Marie will be so mad to lose Raoul, her favorite gardener.”

In the Congo back in his plane Olivier and his copilot Andrew situated themselves at the helm, and fired up the engines after doing a round of checks twice, since it had been eight long months. The only reason they could come up with for this delay was someone wasn’t ready for a pick up until now. They would find out soon enough. The guard with the gun in hand and the two guides sat in the middle of the plane, with the guides right behind the pilots; the guard centered in the middle, usually where all the supplies are kept for Olivier’s missions, such as food, medicines, clothing, shoes, cooking supplies and a few toys. This mission it was empty, and where they were headed only the men from the Congo knew.

Once up in the air the men used the navigation system, during take-off and lifting up beyond the peaks, the moon assisted them casting a glow down below and Olivier saw the Congo River. It reminded him of braids and already he missed Hawa, her smile, her braids and her bravery. He looked over at Andrew when they ascended, and checked to see how he was faring from all of this. Andrew gave him a look of slight fear and uncertainty. Olivier reassured him, “We’ll get through this, hang on, and freedom will be ours again. We have the control now, though I know they get trigger happy, we will persevere. Do you hear me Andrew?” he questioned and wanted a response.

Olivier was now back in charge, in the driver’s seat, doing what he was trained and destined to do. Three hours into the trip, heading northwest from the equator midway over the desert, Olivier looked into his little mirror above his head and noticed all three men asleep. The motors must have silenced their evil minds and put Olivier in a precarious situation; how he would love to throw them overboard, lose them one way or another and fly home to safety and freedom. Nice thought Olivier.

One further glance into the mirror, and he saw her. He saw her give him the shush signal with her finger. Her big blue eyes stared straight into his, and he swallowed. What seemed like an eternity was a moment in time never to be taken back, and bravery faced with determination which he could not stop. Her hand was behind her on the switch, the switch he told her about. The one where someone would pull it, and all the supplies carefully placed would fall to the earth for the needy people below, only there were not any needy people below. She gave him one last look as if to say I’m doing this, okay? He blinked his eyes in disbelief himself, as he had no time to think. She pulled the lever, and immediately held on to the rail provided for this person at this post. The interior of the plane fell down, and so did the interior middle section. Like that the guard was displaced to the barren desert below in the middle of the night. He would not survive the fall at this altitude. The two guides survived with shocked eyes and immense disbelief. They stared at Olivier and his copilot and back to the little girl.

Smiles gradually displaced their looks of shock as they nodded approval. They had been held, and forced against their will for several years, losing their families they told the little girl, who conveyed this to Olivier. Andrew manipulated the center console to close, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Olivier got up, and went to see Hawa, he hugged and held her. He was amazed she was even here. “How did you do this? How did you get on the plane?” stunned he asked these questions. “Where did you hide?” He looked behind her at the very small storage compartment. Yes, her size could fit in just about anywhere.

Olivier then returned to the front, brought her up with him, and placed her in a little jump seat to his side. “I better not show you how to fly a plane or you just might try that, too.” She shook her head as is to say no. Flying wasn’t really her thing. She wanted to see her cousin. “My cousin, my cousin.” She said it twice and he understood perfectly. He sat there stunned looking out towards the coast. They were almost to Portugal and Spain. The original plan from the guard had them loading up in Africa on the coast, and returning with supplies back to the Congo. Now he was free to land in Spain, fuel and then to Paris.

He smiled at her not really sure if she knew exactly what she did, what she felt compelled to do. She had seen much more than him, she had seen killings of prisoners and others for she had told him that along the banks. No wonder her determination to escape, and save him.

“Thanks,” he murmured.

“I,” she pointed to her heart, “save pilot,” she said and pointed to Olivier. He couldn’t believe her English. Yes, she had saved him.

And so they landed in Paris, and were greeted by the French Embassy and several air force pilots. Nicolas and Marie were called, and told. The three would be taken to a hospital, treated first, and then debriefed. The two captives would undergo psychological and physical testing as part of the government Special Forces treatment. A plan would be laid out before them and as for Hawa, well, the air force would take her to the valley after several days of treatment and tests. Marie would then look after her along with her sister.

Olivier wished he could be there for that. He was allowed to say hello to Marie and Nicolas over the phone for a few minutes. The doctor informed Marie that Olivier would need to spend three weeks in Paris recuperating with medications, and evaluations before they would release him to his family. Everyone understood and accepted this course. It would be outpatient once he had the tests done in the hospital. For the most part, the doctors were relieved as he seemed fine, a bit thin but looked good.

Psychological effects would be ongoing due to the effects of prison or captivity, which can be delayed, and usually manifests weeks or months later, sometimes years later. He got to see the little girl one last time before they set off for the Loire valley. Olivier wanted to know how she escaped, and so he asked her to draw a picture for her. She smiled so big and pulled a chain with a key, and a flashlight attached out of her pocket. She put the flashlight to the floor and pretended to follow the men as she zig-zagged the light back and forth.

The doctor told Olivier that the little girl was about eight or nine in years but very mature due to the events in her life.

“No doubt about that, you got that right!” Olivier exclaimed and took a breather bigger than a hot air balloon taking off for flight. Finally. Relaxing. At this point the report taken down and written was that the little girl pulled the switch as it was dark in the plane.

Olivier and his co-pilot had been kidnapped for eight months and the kidnapper had exited the plane via the supply delivery method. No further reports were necessary at this point in time. No one wanted rebels searching for a little girl. Olivier asked the lieutenant if he had a cell phone, and could he borrow it. He dialed Dr. Michael’s number, and left a message stating of his return. He would call back when he obtained a new cell in a few days, giving his regards to his daughter, Daniela.

The hospital released Olivier two days later, and he set out for his Paris residence. He knew someone who would be glad to see him, very glad, and was probably thinking he’d ditched her for a new place. He walked the rues, streets or avenues, until he was close to the Seine and within view of the Eiffel amidst the locals, off a side street and not too far from Moulin Rouge. His place called The French Bleu was a jazz night club he bought many moons ago. He let a lady friend at the time run the place. They needed each other, he needed her friendship, and she needed a man to take care of her, just for a short time. Her man had run out on her and left her in a mess. The mess he left was bills and a fragile wife alone with a child in need. Olivier, ever a gentleman, stepped in when he heard her sing one night at a bar. He had just purchased The Bleu and was in need of talent. Darlene was a singer, a bluesy jazz singer with pipes that could stretch and send you places. She needed a venue and he needed a place in Paris to come ‘home’ to now and then. So it worked for both of them. She managed the place as her own, and he stayed upstairs in a room when in town. He helped out when he could with the patrons, food and drinks and hired gigs occasionally. He even cleaned the place at times. This was his home in Paris. And randomly he played his guitar, and let her sing, both enjoyed this time together.

He picked up the pace to his place. He heard the music from the corner. Darlene, a strong and grounded black woman, with a heart as deep as the English Channel liked to keep the doors wide open and let the music breathe as she liked to say.

“Like wine, it needs to mingle with the air.”

Olivier stood in the doorway looking around. This felt good to be on solid ground in a familiar place, he headed to the stairs and then he heard her voice.

“Stranger, hey, where you been all my life?”

“I’ve been waiting for you. That is where,” he replied with opened arms for a long overdue hug. She eyed him up and down, and surmised this was not a good situation as he looked thinner than usual.

“It’s bad, something bad happened, didn’t it?”

Searching his face now, she knew all was not well. His eyes glossed over spilling a single tear he quickly rubbed away. “Darlene, honey, it’s a long story. I’d love to tell you but I’m so tired I might leave out the good parts, the parts you’ll scold me on. Can it wait for the morning latte?”

“Sure baby. You go upstairs, and I’ll bring you dinner.” She smiled as it was always sweet to have him here. Running the French Bleu, a jazz club with a café feel and a touch of vintage, here and there, she’d made it a favorite for locals, and Americans who ventured off the glorified path. Business was great, definitely in the black even in these dismal times. Today was Tuesday, and Darlene had a gal booked for Friday who was supposed to be sensational! Certainly, Olivier would be better by then, she hoped. She went to the kitchen to make him some dinner. He thanked her and she left, knowing he just wanted some time alone. He never left his room for three days.

Friday she took him some lunch, and he looked a mess, unshaven, hair disheveled as he’d hardly left the bed. “What on earth is going on, Olivier?” she questioned him. He looked around, and he too wondered, a little, what he was doing, but didn’t care. Darlene went over to his phone she had bought him on Wednesday and checked it for messages.

Scrolling through, she came to a text message from Dr. Michaels,

Oh Olivier . . . I need to talk with you right away. It is about Daniela. Please call me as soon as possible. I’m relieved to hear your voice and to know that you are alive!

Darlene went over to the bed, and sat next to Olivier. She touched and stroked his hair lovingly and then cupping his cheeks she inquired, “Tell me, Olivier, what happened to Daniela?”

“I wanted to know her more and I was to visit her in December. My plane was overtaken by the rebels; they hijacked us at gunpoint and forced us into the jungle, the Congo, where we waited month after month. No one knew we were there.” He looked at her.

“My copilot, Andrew, and I spent eight months in that hot god-forsaken jail near the Congo. The embassy didn’t call you?”

“How come I didn’t know this? I’m so sorry baby. I am going to take care of you, feed you and get you better,” Darlene said and felt so bad for him at this moment.

“Daniela, she was a good person, just starting out in life, a nurse with dreams. I gave her my mother’s necklace, a gift for our friendship and now she’s gone, no longer here,” he choked on those words.

“I am so sorry she’s gone, she was too young. Tell me what happened.” Olivier slowly told her the story he had been told from Dr. Michael’s. Shaking her head in despair, she said, “Olivier, at least shower. You don’t need to be your old self just yet, take a few weeks here, recuperate and let yourself mend slowly. I will bring you food, and share conversation; maybe you’ll come down, and hear some music to cheer you. Let’s do this together! You will be better than ever.” She smiled and kissed his forehead. “I should have inquired but several times you have left for six to nine months, so I wasn’t worried, yet.”

He rubbed his forehead and ran his hand through his hair, he was thankful for Darlene.

The chateau saw the return of Nicolas and Marie and then the arrival of the little girl with Lieutenant Gerald de Toulouse. This was a festive occasion, minus Olivier, however, knowing he was safe, and recuperating made everyone smile. Michelle and Raoul were discovering scents and flowers together. Marie and Nicolas were now married and happy to see the twins and other little children. Summer was here, oh yes, as Paris had already started to heat up and it wasn’t even July.

Thanks for reading. Order Into the Vines via Amazon on print or digital! This epic novel is contemporary fiction for YA, adults and teens! Four hundred and fourteen pages with 176K words with page turning chapters right up until the magnificent ending.

Available from XLibris on Amazon. Click here:  IntotheVines

iStock Images Credit

Kim Troike

 

Chapter Two

dadkim

CHAPTER TWO

Francis
“STAGE WHAT? WHAT is stage O?” Brie opened her eyes and realized she had been napping and most definitely dreaming. Anger and outrage filled her being. Why did she have a positive biopsy? Brie had respect for those with knowledge, but after four hours at the mammogram center for a biopsy and a repeat mammogram, she was more than upset. Later when the anesthetic wore off and she felt one of her breast had gone to war, she was furious. One thing about Brie, she maneuvered quickly. Knowing she should be scared and before she would allow that to happen, she’d call her sister and Daniela, both nurses.

Phone calls and information needed to be gathered and evaluated; she would make a decisive plan with the best information she could obtain. Brie liked to think she would be in charge of her own destiny. Several days later the phone rang and the news was given to her. She exited her treadmill and saw it was the doctor through caller ID. Picking up the receiver she went into the closet, took a quick breath and said the shortest mindful prayer possible. Her body was frozen in place, shocked with the news. “What a busy world this is giving you awful news over the phone,” she said to herself. It can be a cold world and the phone was an easy way to convey doctor to patient information, she realized.

Daniela told her she never wanted to be on the other side, knowing what she knew about disease and that she’d seen so many people perish after receiving bad news. Sitting in her brownstone living room, she began to dissect her situation and formulate a plan after making numerous phone calls to friends, family and a previous business partner whose wife had died from breast cancer after just three years with a stage two diagnosis. Brie sat on her brown leather sofa and pulled the blanket over her just a little more, as the rain outside seemed to bring a chill inside. Savannah in November was slightly cool in the 60’s. Mostly just damp inside when it rained. The sky was completely overcast and gray, no clouds, just rain. Pity she hadn’t brought in wood from the backyard before the rain, as she could have had a fire to warm her. I must remember to do that, you know better Brie, she thought.

Rising up, she headed to her office in the front room, and retrieved her favorite notepad (a snowman with a smile), address book and pen. One by one, she made twenty phone calls over the course of three days and talked with these people and told them what had happened. She received encouragement and knowledge and thoughts of what they might do, if placed in the same situation, or what they thought their friend should have done. Disbelief coursed through her veins, she wished she had never had a mammogram. Stupid, she knew, but true. Now she was in the middle of this, navigating her way through it. Wondering when the tears would come, for this unknown territory Brie found herself in; she thought she should be crying or feeling worse.

Then she called her mother and told her the terrible news. “Oh, Brie, are you okay?” her mother asked. And then the tears came. She cried small sobs of pity for herself. “Oh, Mom, why me?” She swallowed hard and could not stop the stream of wetness falling down her face. “I’m so mad. Why don’t they have better treatments available and better outcomes by now? I’ll be calling Mary very soon, and she’ll give me the latest scoop on what to do. So far, what I’ve found out is they do surgery, remove tissue and then obtain clean margins and go back in until they get those. Treatment is then decided according to stage and lymph nodes, etc. and then radiation, chemotherapy if the MRI shows anything.”

“Your dad always said these treatments are so barbaric, giving poison to the whole body to kill a few cells. Someday it will seem so cruel what we did to cure cancer: making people puke, lose their hair, lose weight, have no appetite, and become jaundiced. What else is there though?” Her mother spoke with soft eloquence, which soothed Brie. Brie said goodbye after telling her mother she would get through this and be fine, she was sure of it. She crossed off the names on her list, and thought about the business partner’s wife who had died.

“Three years,” Brie said aloud and made a sad face. Then, taking her cute little snowman pad, she began to write what she wanted to do if she had three years to live. The concept to her was simple, if a person had not very much time to live; what would be important or fun, or both? This called for tea; yes, she wanted tea to drink while she thought of fun things to do. She made tea and returned to her office. These thoughts came quickly without hesitation and Brie wrote them down, one by one. First up was eat a perch sandwich with her new friend Daniela in Cleveland, next up was travel to St. Lucia, Barbados, maybe take a cruise, and go to the beach. She added to eat steak, peach pie, dance with a lover, go shopping, watch her nieces swim, go fishing with her nephew, visit a museum and maybe, this was a long shot, to fall in love. “Kissing would suffice if the latter never came,” she said laughing out loud.

Brie called her friend Jeanne and told her of her sickening news. She was supportive and Brie thanked her for her friendship and hoped that she could give a semblance of these encouraging words to someone who might need them someday. Then Brie shared her little list with Jeanne, wanting to show her that she didn’t want too many things in life, as life had been pretty good. Jeanne surprised Brie with these words. “Let me inform you honey, you’ve just made a bucket list.”

“Sweetie?” Jeanne questioned her friend. “You there?”

“Yes, I’m here, listening,” Brie choked out.

“That’s your bucket list!” Jeanne repeated.

“Oh my god, you’re right, it is.” Brie was stunned. “I didn’t intend for it to be, hmm.”

Later that day her sister arrived. At the front door she gave her a big hug. Kristen wouldn’t let go and talked to Brie up close, “I love you, and I’m so sorry this has happened. You okay?”

“I’m gonna be okay!” Brie exclaimed, as she was just happy to have her sister with her.

“Now, let me give you all the information you’ll ever need so you can make up your mind what to do. And then between you and your surgeon the right thing will happen. When is your appointment with the surgeon?”

“Next week. I hear he is awesome and has a great reputation; he’s even the chief of plastic surgery. He comes referred by professionals who work with him. I’ll be in good hands.” Brie convinced herself and felt relieved.

Cleveland

Daniela wasn’t sure what to do. She was filled with worry as it had been two months since she spoke with Olivier from France. He had been between missions and called her from Paris. He had told her he missed her and reminded her of their times together, that he wanted to see her and kiss her again. He thought he could come over and visit her at Christmas time and see all the snow in Cleveland. Daniela could talk with him for hours if she could, but the time change separated their daily life with a six hour difference. It was decided she would cook for him, and they would decorate a Christmas tree together, listen to seasonal tunes and watch the white snow fall that blanketed the ground. She would play the piano, and he could play the guitar, and they both could sing some carols. He told her that sounded divine, and she smiled breathing a sigh of relief.

That was the end of September and now it was November twenty-fifth, one month before Christmas, and she had not heard from him. His missions usually lasted six weeks, so Daniela had expected to hear from him two weeks ago. The weatherman predicted a November gale headed for Cleveland. With the lake chop already at three footers, most likely it was here and building. Daniela looked out the back window and eyed the crème caps; she took a second look, blinking her eyes, as they seemed to be out of focus. Turning quickly, she ran up the stairs and headed for the shower. Taking a deep breathe to fill her lungs as she realized she was a bit winded. Coughing, she held her hand to her chest and felt an internal rattle. Funny, she thought. I’m not sick. What is this? Glancing in the mirror to check her reflection before undressing, her skin was pale and she had dark circles under her eyes. “Whoa, brother, look at those circles. I am going to need some makeup for these pups, for sure,” Daniela spoke to her reflection. She pinched her cheeks and turned her head side to side, a shower will perk me up, if not pink me up. Hopping in the shower and letting the warm water run over her she thought about Olivier and smiled.

He’s going to be fine, I hope. She thought about all the sick people in the ICU lately with accidents, pneumonia and surgeries, possibly she was coming down with something herself. Maybe I should take my temperature when I get to work. Once before she spiked a temperature when she had the chills; she had no idea that it would be elevated, rather she thought, I’m just cold. She brushed all of this aside, as she didn’t feel very bad at the moment.

“Hey honey, have a good evening. Will you be home after work tonight?” her dad inquired.

“Of course, no plans and don’t wait up. You need your rest.” Daniela said in a rush.

“Thank you, sweetheart. By the way, have you heard from that pilot lately?” Dr. Michaels mused.

“Dad, no, I have not. Actually, I’m worried because he should have been finished by now.”

Daniela bit her lip, and hurried out the door.“Bye, later.”

Dr. Michaels reminded himself to talk with Daniela about trading in that jeep and buying a safer car. He also hoped that pilot would give her a call, to rest her mind, as he saw how happy she’d become last time he called. Her princess demeanor had lasted a whole week and her head stayed up in the clouds even longer. He didn’t think it was true love, but she sure was smitten. He also wanted to share with her his exciting news; he’d been dating a fellow doctor friend and he wanted Daniela’s approval to marry her. Just as Dr. Michaels headed upstairs, the phone rang.

“Hello, Dr. Michaels speaking.”

“Hi there, Dr. Michaels, this is Brie Kelly from Savannah.” Brie presented herself as rather sharp and friendly.”How are you doing today?”

“Very well. And you?”

“Good, yes, pretty good.”

“When do I get to meet you? Daniela has spoken most highly of you and the trip to the Loire Valley at the vineyard and cooking school.” Dr. Michaels was sincere in this request.

Brie smiled. He sounded like a fine man. “I would like to meet you and see my new friend again; she is so down to earth and friendly. I bet she is one fine nurse and the patients must love her.”

“You are correct; however, she has desires for more opportunities in life, so the trip was very good for her.”

“Yes, good for me too.”

“Maybe you two will have to take another trip.”

“Maybe,” Brie answered. “Is Daniela there? May I speak with her?”

“I’m sorry. She has just gone to work for the afternoon and will be home after midnight. Shall I have her call you in the morning? Or maybe you want to text her and leave a message?”

“Thank you. I’ll take her cell and leave a text, as I’ll be up tonight.” Brie took the number and said goodbye.

Later that evening, Daniela arrived home earlier than usual; informing her dad she didn’t feel well at work. Since the patient load was lighter today they sent her home. “I’m going to go lay down, Dad. I have a slight fever, no other symptoms that I can tell, just a little weak and that is probably from the fever. Maybe I’m getting the flu, though it is a bit early in the season for that.” Daniela gave her dad, the doctor, the full report. She poured herself a Sprite and popped an ibuprofen.

Once upstairs and in bed, she nestled underneath the covers and realized she was chilling.

There was a knock on her door. “Just checking . . . will you be okay?” her dad inquired.

“Thanks, I’ll be fine.” Daniela mustered a smile, but her eyes ached and when she blinked they stung a little.

“I wanted to tell you that the friend of yours from Paris called.” Dr. Michaels started off a conversation.

“Olivier called! Dad, why didn’t you say this earlier?” she said shockingly.

“Darling, it was Brie from Savannah, the friend you stayed with. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get you excited thinking about someone else. She said she’d call you in the morning or you can text or call her tonight if you’re up for it,” he said rather concerned. Maybe he should try to find out if Olivier had returned to Paris, as this might alleviate concern.

Daniela’s cell phone lay on her wooden bedside table next to her brass and navy lamp. She sipped her Sprite but declined the phone call for the moment, instead pulling the covers from the bottom of the bed up and over her body to warm up. Daniela had put socks on and these were helping. Tired. She was tired. She began to fall asleep as the ibuprofen kicked in and her shivers declined. Smoothness settled throughout her body. Her cell rang in the morning, and Daniela picked it up, answering Brie’s call.

“Hello girlfriend, how are you doing?” Daniela was cheered by this call.

“Sweetie, I’m good, well not really. But first, you how are you?” Brie decided she’d not dodge this bullet at all.

“Actually, I think I’m sick with the flu or something since yesterday. I have a fever and I came home from work last night, been sleeping ever since.”

“You poor thing. Let that doctor dad take care of you, okay?” Brie instructed her friend.

“Okay, I will. What about you, tell me more. How is the totally refined woman from Savannah, the lady of leisure with no job at the present time? What is she doing with her time these days?”

“Breast cancer, that’s what I’m doing. Not a tumor, yet, but rather a large cluster of cells. So it’s been caught very early. I’m lucky, ha.”

Brie shocked her friend and herself with her bluntness. “I’m going to be fine, just have a few surgeries, not much to it really.”

“Brie . . . no . . . not you!” Daniela gasped. She didn’t know what to say. This was her friend and suddenly so many patient faces breezed through her mind she couldn’t take it. A small tear fell upon her cheek. Silence.

“Daniela, I said I’m going to be fine, and I mean what I say, period.” Brie felt her emotions through the phone and thought she should comfort her friend; she wanted truth from her, the real deal. She needed to know firsthand straight from the horse’s mouth, someone who worked in the hospital and saw these diagnosis and outcomes.

“Honey, I know the possibility of death exists for all of us at any time. That will not be my focus though, I am a realist. Life will be my purpose and outcome.” Brie said this with a smile.

“I’m so sorry. What can I do? Can I stay with you when you come home and take care of you?” Daniela meant this knowing she would need some help.

“That, I will let you know. My mother and sister will probably come and stay with me. Soon, I will have an MRI to see that it has not gone anywhere. You can also answer my nursing questions and give me the latest on this disease. And please, don’t sugarcoat it with pink sprinkles, okay?” Brie laughed for Daniela’s sake.

“Pink sprinkles.” Daniela smiled, and laughed lightly with her friend. That was her Brie; knowledgeable, tactful and joking, which made her appear fearless.

“Tell me, tell me, how is the Frenchman?” She couldn’t keep quiet any longer and wanted to know, definitely wanted to know when they were hooking up again.

“Brie, if I could find him I would share with you when and where but no can do.” Daniela coughed and coughed again. She felt the rattle and her head spun a little with that last cough.

“Daniela, I heard that and it doesn’t sound good. You must have your doctor dad check you out. Do that for me okay?” Brie thought she sounded rather sickly. Daniela felt her forehead, and she felt hot. She must take some more ibuprofen and drink; she was thirsty.

“Yes, I will let him check me out and I’ll take some meds for the fever and get rest, blah, blah, blah.” She felt a little winded but persisted to tell her friend she had not heard from Olivier and she was very worried.

“Well, honey let me see what I can do. I know some people in high places, people that can help me find out information.”

“I’m worried because he is supposed to come here at Christmas and I have not heard a thing. Maybe I should call the vineyard, maybe Marie knows.”

“Let’s not give it another thought; you know he is one resourceful man. He knows his way around the desert and the jungles of Africa. He’s been there so many times and all the good he does, no one is going to let someone like that perish.” Brie said. As soon as she said that word she cringed. “I’m sorry; he’s too good a man. Say a prayer and I’ll get back with you, okay dear.”

“Okay, bye Brie, talk soon.” Daniela uttered in a quiet somber tone.

“Bye sweetie, and get better.” Brie hung up and made a few phone calls to a couple departments, including her ex-husband’s office and the French Ambassador’s office in Washington. The third call was to the vineyard, specifically, to speak with Marie and Nicolas.

“Oh darling, I would so appreciate any info you can retrieve, and I’ll see if I can’t find the type of plane he flew,” Brie said. She felt confident she’d have something by the end of that day or the next. As she placed the phone into the receiver, part of her missed those days in the newsroom, when something was always happening, coming in from all parts of the world.

Technology had exploded these last few years with the internet and social media and cellphones; before, the newsroom waited for printouts via cable lines and broadcasts from
INTO THE VINES 43
afar. Either way, it was exciting to find out information from all over the world. These past few years after she sold her business and suffered through a divorce, she had engaged in women’s groups and volunteering and social clubs, she rather didn’t care for the latter. Too much gossip, not enough real times, real caring, their focus was on clothes and casseroles. A time and place for everything just not now.

Yeah, pleasing just wasn’t her cup of tea, unless she wanted to, then she might pour it on. She looked out the window and could see the river and the ocean meeting. Maybe she was bitter, tired of the red tape and the slowness which occurs in trying to achieve goals.

“Something is out there which I can put my name on, or become interested in and be a part of,” Brie said aloud to herself as no one else was here in her office. Glancing at the paper, she noticed a headline that said Senator Sawyer: No Re-Election, Retirement! He was not running for reelection, he was retiring to be with family, and go fishing. How nice. Good for him. Brie knew she wasn’t ready for fishing; one day just not yet. She pulled her hair up into a band up and away from her face and sat there contemplating; thinking and wondering why she was stirred, now, to do more. What on earth was she thinking? She should go out and meet a man; get married. Isn’t that what you should do by forty? Yes. No. “I want more, something more than women having tea and cakes and discussing which charity we should donate to or where to have the Christmas party or who was having a baby and where the shower should be and should we invite the men.”

She breathed and then sighed. Her mind wanted more, but more of what, she was uncertain of what to do. Why now when she herself had a personal dilemma should she get into the unknown? Surely, she was going mad. But something was making her feel compelled. She decided as she looked out the window again, and saw the huge freighter exiting the Savannah River and headed for Chile, Miami or Spain; she could face her own crisis, but found it necessary to put her energy elsewhere, not knowing how much time she really had. Brie stood up and decided to walk around her lovely home, her brownstone by the river, which she had purchased a couple years ago after her divorce. When her dad was alive, she had helped him run his companies before he passed on and now she remained on the board of several after the CEO and COO of these were appointed. There wasn’t much to do but attend meetings, make decisions and show up for the parties twice yearly, which she obliged and usually looked stunning. She had traveled more these last two years hence the trip to Paris and the cooking school.

The dark paneled walls throughout the first floor were reminiscent of a bygone era and she loved it. She always pictured living in something like this, so when she viewed it she knew she had found the right place. Large green ferns adorned the entrance way, with artwork selected by her along with pieces from her dad’s collection. She especially liked the hand painted piece with the bird dogs at the hooves of the horse with a hunter mounted atop. He looked so sporty, she thought. These were days of yore in the old south, days of hunting quail, pheasant, birds and deer, each had their own special time of the year. She guessed this picture reminded her of her father, and that’s why she liked it so much. Other than a few old pieces, she actually preferred some of the newer art and enjoyed going to a gallery just about weekly. Antiques were present along the hallway, as was the dining table and sideboard in the dining room. Her colors were burgundy and off-white with light green as an accent. Large white magnolia blossoms adorned the center of the table as well as fresh flowers in vases scattered about the house. Brie had a garden out back and grew many flowers as well as herbs and vegetables, even the magnolia tree had its place. Most definitely a home sweet home! Brie had gone to school, worked, gotten involved in politics, and married for five years. She started her own business, ran her father’s businesses, divorced at age thirty eight, traveled, sat on the board of three companies; and now apparently was looking for something she wasn’t quite sure what.

Well, she wouldn’t worry about that, it would come in its own time, probably sooner versus later. The phone rang and it was her friend from the paper, her former coworker with whom she kept in contact. “I’ve got the scoop, not positive it applies to you, but two planes were shot down in the eastern part of the Congo after departing much earlier from Nigeria. They lost radio contact and the pilot and passengers are presumed dead. The flight took off from France in the Loire Valley and fueled up in Algiers and then two weeks later fueled up in Lagos, Nigeria before departing to the eastern area of the Congo. The French press released that they were bound for the river in an apparent rescue mission, not disclosed at this time. It could be your guy, maybe. I’ll need more info, Brie.” Susan relayed her information and glad she could help her former boss lady. She liked Brie. She was fair and always made you see things in a new light; she had you looking at both sides.

“Thanks, Susan, not what I wanted to hear, but it’s a start to finding out where Olivier could possibly be,” Brie said logically.

“Brie.”

“Yes Susan?”

“One more thing.” She hesitated. “This happened four weeks ago.”

“Oh. No.”

“If you can give me the type of planes, then I can confirm more. Call me back, Brie,” Susan added.

“I will try. Bye.” Brie hung up and wondered who would shoot down planes that were bringing food, supplies, and hope to these deserted folks, wandering the desert either lost or trekking to outposts or villages. Someone, she thought, who wanted these supplies or something else.

“How despicable!” she murmured. She must call Daniela and warn her of the probability that his plane may have gone down. It didn’t mean the end just that a search party needed to be looking for him. The horrific part is that it had occurred a month ago. After all they had bid farewell on that grassy runway at the vineyard with skepticism in their hearts, and Olivier’s own worried look did not express confidence. He must have known how very dangerous it was going to be. Brie realized now what a wonderful thing Olivier was doing, saving a few lives at a time, which meant the world to those few, while the rest of the world tried to save millions with food banks and relief, he did his part; actually dropping the supplies and food he probably saved hundreds, if not thousands.

Smiling she knew what charities she’d be donating to this year; charities that contributed in some aspect to these children, born in areas to mothers who couldn’t take care of them through drought, devastation, war or abandonment, and by fathers who had to work elsewhere. These children deserve more, not to die on some desert or in the hands of rebels or militia. Brie’s eyes glassed up and her heart bled a little for the people this man was helping, the children, and now her friend, Daniela, and what she must tell her.

Cleveland

Daniela’s dad took her temperature and shook his head. “No work for you today.”

“What is it?” She reached for the ibuprofen and poured out two tablets.

“One hundred and two point six degrees, this is definitely a fever.” He looked her over to see if anything else stood out.

“Give me a cough,” he asked. Daniela coughed and there it was, that rattle, only this time it hurt more than last night.

“I’ll be okay, Dad, you go to work and I’ll take the pills to bring the fever down. If it’s still bad, I’ll go see someone tomorrow or you can prescribe me some antibiotics or whatever.”

“Seems to be just in the chest, have you brought anything up with that cough?” He felt he should be thorough, as nurses and doctors could be the worst about seeing someone to get better.

“No phlegm, promise.” Daniela smiled, took the pills and more Sprite.“I’ll call my friend Joy; she’ll come over and check on me, I think.” She did just that and Joy would bring soup over later on and check on her.

“There, see? I’ll be fine.”

“Fine, very good. I’ll call you later and come home earlier if I can.” Her dad smiled and left for work. Sitting up in bed, Daniela opened her bedside drawer and pulled out the letter she had written to Olivier a few days ago. She had not mailed it yet, secretly hoping the phone might ring and it would be him. She decided to read it again and then give it to Joy to mail today.

Dear Olivier,

Today is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday in America, celebrating the harvest and everything we are thankful for, like family, food and home? The settlers and the Indians sat at a table together and celebrated this harvest many moons ago, of course after we took their land from them. That’s another letter. Autumn is over and winter will be here very soon with snow and gray skies for months on end. My dad is at work, and he is dating another doctor, so maybe they’ll get hitched. I should have my own place, but there’s plenty of room here, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to stay in this small town. I know the world is full of big cities and I just feel a need to explore and grow more to see what’s out there. I want more opportunities than here is your life, this is what you can expect, this is all there is. I suppose traveling is where I should start, like the cooking school and meeting you. That was very exciting! I want to hear more of your stories and the places you’ve been to and the missions you do. I have tried to call you on your cell and have sent emails and I cannot get a hold of you. Where are you? Maybe, I should call Marie. Please come see me in December, as I’ll be waiting for you, to see your face again and hold you. I miss you.

Sincerely,

Daniela

Daniela drifted off to sleep after reading the letter.

Later awakened by the door bell, her head swooned as she stirred to sit up. She coughed and expectorated thick mucus, blood tinged, which gave her concern. Now she knew what was brewing and it wasn’t good. Daniela picked up her phone and dialed Joy at her front door and told her to use the key at the side of the porch and come on up. Joy entered through her door and upon looking at her furrowed her eyebrows as Daniela looked pale to her, a ghostly white with sunken eyes. “Good lord, what’s the matter with you?”

“Joy, I don’t feel so good either. I think, maybe, I’ve got pneumonia. I think, well, I know because I just coughed up red shit!” she knew this would get Joy’s attention.

“You know, you need my soup, let me go and get it.” Joy hurried to retrieve her homemade soup and crackers.

“Thank you Joy, yes, I’m afraid I need that and more.” Daniela coughed and quickly wrapped the frothy red sputum in a tissue. Shaking her head, her chest hurt immensely with that last cough, piercing like an arrow with a deadly tip. Daniela’s phone rang, it was Brie.

“Hi honey, how are you today, any better?” Brie asked. “Oh. Hi, Brie. I’m fine, my friend is here waiting on me, and she has brought me some soup. What did you find out?”

“Daniela. I do not have good news, but it is not terrible news. There will be more to come as I’ve got someone working on it for me. I’m waiting for a call from Marie and Nicolas, so I will call you when I hear from them.”

“Okay, tell me. What is it?” Brie breathed in and raised her eyes to look above her head to the sky, for divine intervention, something she inherited from her mother.

“According to radar, two planes went down west of the Congo River.”

“The Congo? What?” Daniela was using all her energy now and she felt faint.

“Honey, apparently Olivier and his other plane were on a mission to go into the Congo to retrieve prisoners.” Brie too, thought it all so much. Who does this she pondered. Olivier, a kind soul with a kindred spirit, that’s who. Poor Daniela, she was so in love, Brie could tell. She’d been there, done that before. “Sweetie, you know if anyone can get out of it, he can. He will be all right, I just know it. Don’t you?”

“Brie, do you think so?” Daniela asked very weakly.

“He will be unscathed.” Words she spoke from a silent calm shelf, a cupboard of hope filled with nourishment; where she found that she did not know. She had to leave her with some hope, a white blanket she could cuddle to rest peacefully. “And furthermore, get yourself better, very soon, so that you will have Christmas and decorate the tree like you’ve planned for so long.”

“Will do . . . Christmas,” Daniela whispered.

Joy returned with the soup and Daniela had dozed off. She put it at her bedside and saw a letter addressed to Olivier. Smiling, she knew her friend had met him in Paris and was smitten. She would ask about him when she woke. Joy sat in the chair and waited for her friend to wake. When she did she gave her some soup, feeding her slowly.

“How’s the fella from France?” She inquired happily.

“Joy” she said, lowering her eyelids. “I’ve just gotten terrible news.” Daniela coughed harshly and brought up large amounts of bright red blood, which she could not conceal from her friend.

“Daniela, let me help you. I must call your dad, this is not good. You know that.” Joy looked in her eyes and saw how glazed and fragile she appeared. She decided to take her pulse and feel her extremities. Thready, weak and erratic, her pulse was near a rate of one hundred and forty as she counted thirty five beats for fifteen seconds.

“Honey, I’m calling your dad, but first I’m calling the ambulance. Take some sips of this drink I brought you, okay Daniela.” Joy encouraged her friend. Something was happening here, probably pneumonia and affecting her heart already.

Daniela fazed in and out of a semi-delirious state and had a bad feeling whenever she woke. Planes go down all the time, but she had felt this way for a month, something inside her told her all was not right. She knew life was precious, she’d lost her parents to a plane wreck years ago. Her own body felt weakened, yet, she wanted to remain strong and find out from Brie tomorrow. She would have answers for her tomorrow.

Hold on Daniela, soon. She was glad she had met Olivier, she smiled and her eyes brightened as Joy looked upon her. Joy watched as Daniela smiled and seemed dreamy touching her heart across her chest, holding it there. She fell asleep. Joy called her dad and gave him the update.

“Dr. Michaels, something is not right. I believe she has pneumonia, and it is worsening by the minute. I’ve called the ambulance and they are on the way. Her pulse is one hundred and forty; she’s weak and has coughed up blood, a large amount.” Joy gave him her best nursing assessment and diagnosis.

“Joy, thank you. That does sound worse than this morning, she’s deteriorating quickly, she, must be in a weakened state or have a virus attacking her immune system. I’ll be waiting for her at the hospital, stay with her. See you soon.” Dr. Michaels said very concerned.

Joy texted her husband Jeff and told him of the situation. She wished Dr. Michaels was here just in case something happened before the ambulance arrived. Daniela’s color was worsening and her nail beds were turning blue. Jesus, what was happening to her friend?

Dr. Michaels greeted the ambulance in the ER. Daniela did not look so good. She tried to sit up when she saw her Dad, wondering what all the fuss was about. Realizing her skin was prickly and she altered between hot and cold with her fingers feeling numb, she just wanted to feel better. Her whole chest hurt, Daniela needed to lie back down.

“Daniela, you need attention and care that only the Intensive Care Unit can give. We need to see your blood pressure and heart rate on the monitor and watch your oxygen saturation. We’ll keep the oxygen mask on for now until you get through this. Does that sound okay?” Dr. Michaels could not believe he was uttering these words, he felt displaced like he was in a movie or TV show, and not telling his own daughter her condition. He certainly didn’t think when he left her this morning it would be that bad by afternoon, else he’d have stayed home with her.

“Thank you Joy, for staying with her.”

“No problem.”

“She’s very lucky to have a friend like you dropping everything and coming to her aide. You are so kind.”

“Thanks,” Joy said and gave him the letter Daniela had been holding. Dr. Michaels tucked the letter in his white doctor’s coat. He made a quick call to her uncle George, a widower due to the plane crash years earlier, as his wife was with Daniela’s parents at the time of the crash. George ran the local bar and so he felt he wasn’t the right person to adopt Daniela and care for her with his hours and all.

Dr. Michaels had been extremely close to the family for years, like an uncle, so he stepped forward and adopted Daniela at the age of twelve. She was twenty four and all grown up, but still living with him. She just hadn’t found her way and where she wanted to be. Daniela was admitted to the hospital where she worked and so later several nurse friends came around to check on her. It was a long night for everyone with Daniela mostly oblivious to her surroundings, thankfully. No, it wasn’t a full moon but it had started to snow.

Paris/Loire Valley

“Brie honey, it does not look good, we are so worried. But this has happened before, no communications for weeks and then all of a sudden he pops back into our lives. It’s the nature of his business.” Marie rambled on. “The air force is confident he is still alive, just being held somewhere deep in the jungle. They are working very hard to find him and feel, that they will, before long.” Marie wanted to be reassuring for her American friend and the friend of Daniela. She had not called her not wanting to get her distraught just yet.

“Thank you, Marie, and we should have faith, all will be well. Presently, Daniela, is ill and I just wanted to give her some assurance as she was expecting him at Christmas time. I guess that is not going to happen. Please be in touch, call me on my cell any time okay?” Brie instructed Marie.

“Please take care and give our best to Daniela,” adding in her very congenial tone, meaning every word so heartfelt. That was Marie, in person and on the phone, the ultimate mom type. Brie hung up the phone having misgivings about this whole situation. It just wasn’t right, her friend ill, her friend’s friend missing and she herself with a diagnosis she’d like to forget. Four or five months ago the world was right, bright and new, with beginnings. She found herself in the middle of a puzzle and she held the missing little piece.

Tomorrow, she would meet with her surgeon and discuss her fate, she knew she’d live she just wasn’t sure what she’d have done. But she had a pretty good idea. Instead she focused on Daniela and the handsome French man with charm she’d met. Good catch, she thought, a nice guy with morals, so she thought, and serving others in life with his missions. Yeah, he was a catch, Daniela told her, he could sing too. Funny, thought Brie. I’d like to hear him sing someday.

In the morning on the way to see her surgeon she called her old office and talked with the lady who was going through the same thing as her. She had three kids and a husband and was a bit younger in her mid-thirties, poor dear thought Brie. They both decided it would benefit them to communicate now and then and help each other through this bad news. They would keep abreast of the situation, they decided, and most definitely pun was intended. Both laughed.

Cleveland

Saturday night finally calmed down as it made its way into Sunday morning with some stabilization of Daniela’s vital signs. She was intubated at midnight and heavily sedated to tolerate the tube. Her arms were lightly restrained due to the sedation, as she was not coherent. Dr. Michaels stayed by her side except when he was asked to leave during the emergency intubation and deteriorating vital signs. Blood gases were sent, as were blood cultures and electrolytes, a chest x-ray was done, and an echo cardiogram was ordered stat. These would cover all the immediate bases to see where she stood. The chest x-ray showed a white out of both lungs, not necessarily pneumonia, but failure, possibly her heart was going into failure.

Dr. Michael’s and the attending discussed her possible diagnosis with what they had so far. She had come down with the flu or flu-like symptoms which rapidly progressed over twenty four hours. A cardiologist was called in to assess her heart due to the rate and slight enlargement on the x-ray. The echo was in progress. This was all too much for Dr. Michaels.

Savannah

Brie tossed and turned last night, getting up at one point and opening her window. She felt a little like she was suffocating, maybe it was the appointment and now dealing with what would happen. Too much dismal news, she guessed. She breathed in the cool mist from her window as the river had a heavy layer of fog on it. She was wearing her vintage nightgown, a white cotton low cut with silk detailing on the edges. It always made her feel heavenly as it was soft, worn and beautiful. She settled down and a peace set in. She could breathe again. Smiling, she felt stronger now and knew what she would do first thing in the morning. Then her phone dinged off with a text. A text, at this hour? It was Dr. Michaels.

Brie, sorry so late, I mean early. Daniela’s in hospital. Call me.

Brie texted back.

Dr. Michaels I’m coming to Ohio. Be there ASAP.

Brie scanned through her phone pictures taken in France from the summertime. She kissed a photo of her and Daniela in the Loire Valley near the river taken one day on one of their walks. “Oh, dear lord, she’s too young. What’s to come? You want her, but we do too. She’s too good for this valley.” Brie shook her head and kissed the photo, shedding a couple tears down her cheeks.

Upon wakening, Brie set in motion travel plans to Ohio this Sunday morning the end of November, having no idea what was in store, only that she really did care for this young girl named Daniela, who was full of life.

Departing the plane, Brie checked her messages and Marie had sent her a text.

Planes last seen headed for the Congo. No planes, no bodies, still searching. Maybe held captive/imprisoned. Can’t reach Daniela.

Brie sent a message back.

Oh, no. Sorry. I’ll tell Daniela. I’m in Cleveland to see her. She’s in hospital, ill.

It was late Sunday evening now, and Brie rented a car and drove to the hospital, meeting Dr. Michaels. There was a light snow falling, nothing lasting on the ground, so she could drive without a problem. But, if this continued, things could get wretched up here in the north. She’d been told by Daniela how mighty a storm could brew off the lake, anytime of the year, especially November and December. Dr. Michaels spent the night after the intubation and stabilization in the chair next to Daniela’s bed; along with all the equipment speaking their own noises as alarms rang for the nurses and their judgment.

He rubbed his eyes and decided to go get some coffee to wake up. He wanted to be there for Daniela after her echo this morning and to see what the doctors thought about her possible progress and/or outcomes. Geez, he couldn’t believe this was happening, it was a nightmare. Later returning with a second cup of coffee, the doctors on her case talked with Dr. Michaels and told him it was too soon to tell, these twenty four hours were crucial with the white out on her x-ray and echo cardiogram. They would support her with inotropic drugs and diuretics to give the heart a rest; but she may need further support if she didn’t turn around by tomorrow or the next day. They did not want renal failure or other body systems failing if the heart was giving out.

Dr. Michaels could not believe these words, so acute, so drastic and all concerning his little girl.Come on Daniela, you can pull out of this and he continued his vigil at her bedside, occasionally holding her hand and talking with her.

Brie arrived at Fairview Hospital and headed straight for Daniela’s room. It was seven thirty in the evening and Dr. Michaels was sitting next to her. Daniela’s eyes were open. She looked at her friend and Daniela’s eyes lit up and she coughed a little sending the ventilator into a temporary fit. Brie walked over to her and held her hand saying hello and smiling to both Dr. Michaels and Daniela. This would be a one sided conversation and she knew her friend wanted details, she could see that. Details, frankly, that Brie didn’t want to share. She set her belongings, including her phone, at the bedside table and sat awhile with Daniela and her dad. The nurses came and went doing this and that, taking vital signs and giving IV medications.

At one point they asked the two to leave so they could do some care and turn her and give her some sedation. The two of them headed for the cafeteria to catch up. After the nurses finished and left the room, Daniela noticed a cell phone on her bedside table. She wasn’t restrained now, and the sedation hadn’t kicked in as yet, so she picked it up. It was Brie’s, so she checked her messages thinking maybe she had heard from Marie or, just maybe, Brie had reached Olivier. Daniela began to read the text from Marie,

No bodies.

No she said to her mind, please no, please God don’t let this be true. She looked up at the doorway and Brie was standing there staring at her with Brie’s phone in her hand.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you and I just couldn’t; please don’t give up just yet, there is still hope and he needs you to be strong.” Brie offered what she hoped were encouraging words.

Daniela felt dreadful, she wanted to run and hide to be by herself, but couldn’t go anywhere with the tube and all. She turned to look out the window, not wanting to see anyone. The phone dropped from her hand. She felt like giving up, like all hope was lost.

He probably was dead. She hoped he didn’t suffer out there in the desert, like some of the kids did. The awful stories she knew about, she hoped and prayed he went fast. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep from the medication and found herself out in the desert searching for his body.

Around two o’clock in the morning, when all was quiet except the machines doing their business; blowing oxygen into lungs, forcing sterile glucose water into veins at set rates, and nurses reading systemic blood pressures via arterial lines, measuring preload into the heart via central venous catheters, cardiac outputs via Swan Ganz catheters and Foley catheters measuring kidney function. No one saw the frightened look upon Daniela’s face as her chest squeezed with an intense pressure and her heart skipped beats; she floated for a moment before the terrible crushing pain stomped upon her chest like hooves from wild horses ten times her size. She crumbled and so did her heart. The code blue sent all the medical personnel into immediate action with swiftness and ease, as they were well trained for events such as this.

It was discussed whether to put her on a VAD (ventricular assist device) or whether her chances being so slim of survival, that only a transplant would suffice. After the code her organs as in kidneys, liver and heart were all in failure.

Questionable also, was her brain activity. At six o’clock in the morning a brain scan was performed on Daniela Michaels and it was determined there was no activity. The ventilator was sustaining her lungs and the cardiac drugs were keeping her heart at a maintained regular rate with periodic bouts of ventricular tachycardia, one ventricular fibrillation episode which required shocking her chest. Her potassium level was boosted with intravenous electrolytes and fluids while other electrolytes were stable for the moment.

The cardiac situation and instability were the most worrisome and now the brain scan was the final blow. Dr. Michaels lost it and began crying uncontrollably.

“Why? Her?” He shouted. Pounding his fists uncontrollably into the wall, collapsing against it; his pain was seen by the nurses and doctors and other visitors early in the morning this twenty seventh of November, two thousand and twelve. They kept a close vigil all day Monday and into the night, taking turns holding her hand and wetting her lips, whispering words of love into her ear.

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Michaels knew it was over and the look in his eyes told a story of longing and of losing. Brie held Dr. Michaels around the waist and comforted him. He looked like he’d been in a bad storm as his eyes were red from lack of sleep, his clothes were rumpled from sleeping in the chair, and his hair had not been combed. The horror of it all was unbelievable. He felt like he would wake up, everything would return to normal and Daniela would be sleeping in her bed. He would then make her breakfast and tell her of his news to be married. He allowed Brie to take him home for the first time in two days and they would return in the morning to be with Daniela the last day of her life on Wednesday.

Tuesday evening a few friends and relatives gathered at Dr. Michaels’ home. Brie was staying there in a guest room. George was there and most people brought over dishes of food, casseroles and the like. The decision was made to have dinner with Daniela at the hospital on Wednesday evening, a celebration of her life, with her and for her on the last evening of her life. Then, later in the evening, the machines would stop doing their business of artificial living and let nature assume the reigns. They would play music; bring flowers, show pictures, and offer up exchanges about the departing soul. The hospital chaplain would attend this and offer further support. As much as they would try, and smile, this would be a festival of tears for emotions ripping through hearts as they would grasp unrealized dreams of a soul’s life gone too early.

The guests arrived at Dr. Michael’s’ house in several groups. The unassuming white-sided house from the nineteen thirties blended in on this street in the small suburb of Cleveland.

Actually, he wasn’t too far from downtown, but in a small area right off Lake Erie. He could see the water out the back window, and the snow had stopped falling leaving a small dusting. The lake was a beautiful, a silvery shimmer of cut glass. The setting sun cast a glow from the west in the sky with pink hues amidst light blue streaks of thin cotton shreds.

Yes, it was a gorgeous night. George and Brie began talking at the kitchen table and covered a slew of topics as the other guests set down in the family or dining rooms. “John tells me you and Daniela met on the plane, how nice.” He started off.

“Yes, and we were headed to the same place,” Brie fondly remembered their chance meeting, sitting side by side. “You married? Kids? Work?” he inquired. Brie raised her eyebrows thinking okay ask away.

“No, no, and no.” She wanted to laugh but in light of this somber evening of utter disparity, she smiled lips closed. “Divorced, someday and been there done that, will do it again soon. Is that better?”

“Smart as a whip, I knew it. Actually, Daniela told me all about you one day when she came by the bar and had a beer with me. She was smart too you know and had a great reputation as a nurse.”

“Hey, sorry, I’ve got a few things to work out and I’ll be back in the saddle as they say. Yes, I’d like to get married and maybe try a baby or two. As for work, I’m looking for something with more meaning, something that inspires me to be the best I can be. I don’t know I just want to feel more than going to work, making money, etc.” Brie continued. “Does that make sense?”

George stood up and acknowledged Brie, asking. “Would you like a beer?”

“Thank you, yes I would.” George opened them both a beer from the fridge and continued.

“I was divorced also, it is a difficult thing to get through, sometimes it is for the better and sometimes people never get over it. It could have to do with the type of person you are.”

“I can agree to that. I’m over it, I truly am. I don’t even have a need to talk it over or through. I’m pretty sure I was through with the marriage years before it actually happened. Anyway, soon, maybe I’ll start looking.” She smiled.

“And you?”

George smiled back at her, “What? Am I looking? I’m always looking dear, every day. She just hasn’t found me yet, but she will.” George winked at her.

“Oh, you are cute. I bet Daniela had a great time talking with her uncle. Did you fix her up or give her pep talks, take her to an amusement park? Tell me a memory.”

“I’ll save that for tomorrow if you don’t mind. How long are you in Cleveland for?”

“Uh, until Sunday, as I have an appointment on Monday.”

“Stop over at the bar, it’s actually a brewery, becoming famous really. I think you’d like it. Come and have dinner, it’s on me and bring John; he’ll need to get out.” George handed her a card.

“I will. Thank you very much. I guess we should go see how he’s doing.” Brie was so glad she came up to see her friend, for her and for these wonderful folks that loved her so. The funeral details had been planned, tentatively of course, but in reality it was probably a hundred percent that she would expire as she had no respiration’s of her own, it was all ventilator assisted. This occurred in brain death depending on the level and what functions were left. Her pupils were fixed and dilated, and she had no movement whatsoever; if not for the ventilator and cardiac support drugs she would have expired yesterday. There was no hope.

Dr. Michaels went through the motions talking, but not really there. Everyone left early and would be there for him at the funeral. Mostly, tonight was about dinner and just checking on him; just being here for a few moments to let him know he was not alone. He told Brie and George after the others had left he would be in the office for a while. He went there and began looking at an old picture album; he managed a half smile.

Dr. Michaels decided right there he was going to be strong, for his daughter; he would be dignified and be there for her. He was given this small amount of time, however divine, to say goodbye with strength and courage, for her properly. He went to bed.

A visitor looking upon the occasion happening in Daniela’s room was struck by the joy and devotion, and the melancholic merriment surrounding her bedside as there were balloons, and huge cards hung on the walls, and music being played. Her family was singing, dancing and crying at intervals. They dressed her up in the finest Saturday night dress, applied makeup, fixed her hair and pretended just for a few hours that she was still theirs.

This visitor swallowed hard, tears sliding down her cheek; she turned and walked away thinking how wonderful if only the young woman could see all of this. Daniela lasted approximately sixteen minutes as her heart and lungs expired; and the heart not wanting to quit firing from the medication, slowly until there was no more electrical impulses seen on the monitor in the young heart.

Saturday morning, the second day of December, in the chilled air with gray skies above, Daniela Karla Michaels, previously a Christensen, was laid to rest. Mourning the loss at the burial and sitting graveside were Dr. Michaels, Brie, George, Joy and Jeff, Francis Stauder and his grandmother along with two nurse friends.

“Family and friends we are gathered here to mourn a special young life taken in her youth, quickly and reverently so. Life is not guaranteed to be long and when death cuts the dreams and love from us, we are truly saddened. Her beauty and sanctity touched all who came across her path, for they knew upon encountering Daniela, her life was special.

Suffering losses early on, she rose from heartache and built life skills to help others. She was very blessed, as were we. Now we send her to you Lord in your caring arms and grace.”

The pastor bowed his head, closed his eyes, and solemnly raised his arms as to unite the gatherers. The little boy, Francis, placed flowers on the casket given to him by his grandmother. He sniffled and looked into the eyes of Dr. Michaels quickly before finding the gaze of Brie, who couldn’t remove the shattered display of emotion taking control of her being. Brie stretched out her arms to the boy and he came to her, and stood searching her face. Brie touched his cheek on one side. “She told me about you and how happy she felt; she wanted to know you, she felt a part of you.” Brie smiled, and tears rolled down her cheeks as the boy leaned in and kissed her wet cheek. Brie closed her eyes and felt touched on this cold gray day at the graveyard.

Brie returned to Savannah, a solemn trip home, listening to music via her iPod, one favorite after another.

Time to face the music, she thought, her own music. Her mother arrived Sunday late afternoon and sister, too. Tomorrow would be her surgery, December fourth, she knew all would go well, she just had a feeling. Her mother and sister had gone to the store and bought some groceries; essentials for post-surgical patients, things like clear liquids, fruit and juices, ice cream and soups. There was a bouquet of flowers on the counter with yellow daisies, blue anemones, and scarlet lilies which made her smile. “Flowers, already?” Brie stated. Her friend sent them with a card that read.

All the best to you Brie, you’ll do great,
tell your mother to call if she needs anything,
Anne.

At around seven o’clock Brie told her visitors she was headed to the church to visit father Kelly, her uncle, and asked if they would like to come along. They declined so she went and the one thing she wanted to do was light a candle and say a novena; a series of prayers destined for a specific person, dead or alive and/or a cause outcome for a person, that person being herself. She often said these at home but this particular time she wanted those holy walls, this sacred institution to give her more hope. Brie did not regularly attend church anymore, but loved the power of prayer. She felt prayer worked for the person saying it two fold, by releasing stress, and also sending out messages to the air waves, the angels. The person on the other end benefited too from the power of prayer.

She believed this and thought this does work; other long standing beliefs she questioned and just let them be. Her beliefs had evolved over the years and probably the Catholic Church would not approve, so she did her own thing. The church had quite a lot of trouble these last few years and she felt many people fit in her category. Just nobody was talking about it, at least not at church. She knew the women with children were always questioning the priest why they didn’t have music and more programs for the kids like other churches had. They never gave answers except this is the way it is! She was hoping the church would change and give way, except it probably had to come from the pope and since he was an institution, most likely it would not. It reminded her of a blind eye, you know it’s happening you just don’t look or see.

Oh well, as they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it will take more than that for change.

Baby steps, children that’s who will change the future she thought as she entered the old church. Leaving the cold bleakness outside and walking in to the church built in the eighteen nineties or so, it was very Victorian-like with dark wooden pews and floors.

However, light streamed in through the glass stained windows and gave lightness or hope to this grand interior. She genuflected, and said a few prayers before heading to the alter area and then off to the right where the candles, lit and unlit were kept. The echo of her shoes with each step gave her a grand and glorious feeling of importance, like an announcement ‘Here I am’ as she looked around, no one seemed to be here this evening.

Arriving at the candles she lit one and said her prayer, funny she had said novenas for others, never herself. She loved God, and knew he loved her. She also recalled a saying from the Dalai Lama. My religion is simple, my religion is kindness. Smiling and bowing her head these two beings influenced her simultaneously. Brie felt a tap upon her shoulder and turned she saw it was father Kelly.

“Hi Father, how are you?”

“Hello Brie, what brings you in here, this evening?” he inquired. She always surprised him, and he genuinely wanted to know the reason for her visit.

58 KIM TROIKE

“Father, I need to pray with you. You know, wherever two or three are gathered in my name so shall it be done,” Brie used that line way too much she knew, but she liked it. It helped to solve problems of hers.

“Brie, of course we’ll pray together. What’s the prayer for?” he said in a very quiet voice.

“Well, I’ve just lost a new friend, and she was very young. She needs a prayer and me too, as I’m having surgery tomorrow. I want it go smoothly, you know anesthesia and all,” Brie said. “I’ve had the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer, caught super early, but I just don’t want to ever think of it again.”

“Brie, honey, I’m sorry. Your mother didn’t tell me this news. I just saw her last week over Thanksgiving.”

He seemed concerned. “Okay, let’s do this. Brie, take my hand. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name so shall it be done.” He began and she bowed her head, and prayed with him.

“Thank you so much, father.” Brie stood and gave him a hug. “I’m sorry, I’m not your perfect Catholic, and you can keep trying if you want. If you’ll still have me I’d like to hang on even with some of my views.” She smiled. He was her uncle after all so he knew her pretty well, and what she meant by that. He’d be there next time she needed him, or want him for something. That evening, her mother and sister shared a meal with her; the last solid meal for a while. They toasted with a glass or two of wine, the trips they had taken together over the last couple of years and to more in the future.

“To New Orleans!” her mother stated.

“To French food!” Brie added, “To St. Lucia someday!”

“Ya’ll, I’ll settle for the beach with the kiddos left at home,” her busy sister Kristen said, rolling her eyes with raised eyebrows.

Brie could feel the rush of people around her, moving her over from a table and talking, but she couldn’t respond. Oh, she was waking from her anesthesia, that’s right she had surgery today. Oh no, not joyous she thought. And then, the feeling, the pain crept in slow at first and then hit her hard. Yet she couldn’t do anything about it. I need pain medicine, where’s my pain medicine? This hurts like hell. Tears streamed down both cheeks, yet she couldn’t move. Then she heard someone say, “Give her some pain med, she’s awake.”

“I don’t want to wake up yet,” she mumbled. “There, honey, pain medicine is going in right now. Soon it will all be gone.” The next time she woke, she was in her room with her sister and mother. Her mouth was dry. She was peaceful and it was over.

“It’s over.” She smiled and looked around the room.

A day later she was home to recover and was assisted by her mother, sister and a couple friends. They waited on her, medicated her, fed her and assisted her to the shower the first time. She walked around inside and outside in her garden to get things moving along. The medication for pain was known to be constipating and she would have none of this. She spent her days up in bed and down to the chair in the afternoons.

After five days she took a shower and became faint and as soon as she returned to the bed, puked. Not pleasant. She definitely didn’t want that happening again. Between the second and third week Brie’s aunt from the north visited for a couple days on her way to Florida. She was sitting in the fireplace room, drinking lemonade-real lemonade which her mother had bought at the local grocery store just yesterday-visiting with her Aunt Lillie. Brie had just popped a couple of pain pills and would probably doze off in about a half hour or so.

Her aunt began talking about her surgery twenty five years ago. Brie knew she had a mastectomy, even saw the scar one year on a visit to her house; but never knew she had reconstruction and how it turned out. Not quite sure how it happened, but the next thing Brie knew she and her aunt lifted their shirts to show each other their surgical scars.

The moment was surreal, like is this happening with my aunt for real? Brie viewed her aunt’s breast and then she found herself lifting her top to show her the new incisions upon her chest. Like no big deal, she thought. Brie was smiling, laughing and curiously intrigued at this moment. She didn’t mind showing her newly incised skin, as it actually had no meaning for her at this time, except for no control. Here’s what they did to me; another statistic or the latest therapy. She had to accept it. What else was there? She would deal and find the way to be fine. This was a huge help, huge leap to see someone else who’s been there, done that, and doing fine. Brie knew in her mind someday surgery would not be the answer and progress would be more kind to the body; prevention doesn’t cure everyone. You know ‘shit happens’ to the best of people.

The medical community would discover a more gentle non-invasive way to cure or abate these cancers; like the body doing its own work and surrounding the tissue. Her sister told her of an article she read where humans have up to five cancers in their lifetime and the body wards it off, all on its own. Maybe that is why grandparents lived so long, they never went to the doctor, they just healed themselves. Possibly, they had it and died of unknown causes. Then again they walked everywhere and maintained a good weight. Aunt Lillie explained to her that she did not want to walk around with one boob, so she had implant surgery and hasn’t had a problem in twenty five years. This was music to Brie’s ears for sure, as she has heard of rejection and hardening. Then there was the time the manufacturers pulled implants off the market. Or was it the government? She wasn’t sure.

Aunt Lillie explained to Brie that back when she found the lump in her breast, her doctor was just going to remove the lump. She told him to take the whole thing as she didn’t want it to recur like it had in a friend of hers, who then passed away. Brie absolutely identified with this philosophy, so until they could guarantee 99-100% with less tissue, she opted for the full mastectomies.

What a word! Ouch, she thought. Boobs, well, they are associated with being a woman, femininity, motherhood and our sexual selves. Brie guessed she would have exploration to do. She wondered if she should ask her aunt that question, but left that one alone. She’d have to find out for herself. Brie went upstairs to nap, feeling refreshed from the lemonade and most of all, truly healed from her aunt’s visit.

Christmas Eve arrived solemnly, and a full three weeks since Brie’s surgery; things were going well. She would be able to enjoy the holiday, as they would attend church and return home for a late dinner by the fire. Church was always lovely at Christmas time with the pipe organ bellowing loud, and the choir sounds filling the air with familiar tunes, echoes of heels were not present, nor distinct; only people, pretty lights, decorations and wonderful familiar songs. Poinsettias lined the altar as did a Christmas tree over near the choir. They were dressed in their finest dresses and suits of red, green and black. The soloist tonight was wearing crème, or as they say winter white, thought Brie. She thought about her friend Daniela and her dad. She’d give him a call tonight at home. Brie nodded to a few of her friends. It occurred to her that people talk about these things, her cancer and such. “Oh fiddle dee-dee,” she mumbled. She didn’t give a hoot.

She genuinely felt at peace and the sooner she forgot about it the better, however, she had two more surgeries and multiple expansions along the way. June could not get here fast enough, she smiled, just in time to put a bikini on. That was when her mother and she noticed Ashley, at the same time, the dark haired beauty who reigned over Savannah. Married to the nicest guy in the world, she was president of two major clubs and put her business in your business.

Ashley gazed upon Brie and raised her left eyebrow.

“Couldn’t she just smile and say Merry Christmas,” Brie asked her mother.

“She isn’t made that way. She came out complaining, looking for fault and ridiculing those she feels are inferior.” She said adding, “She’s the weak one.”

“Yes, Mom, you’re right, but let us think Christmas and holy thoughts.” Brie sounded trite.

“You ought to start your own club, Brie, make yourself president and show her a thing or two on how it is done.” Smiling with big eyes, her mother half enjoyed this, thought Brie. It did make Brie ponder the idea.

The soloist began with her mother’s favorite Christmas tune, O Holy Night.

Once the three of them were home, her sister’s family came over for dinner. Just this year her sister decided to go with Brie and her mother and all join up later at Brie’s. Her husband spent some time at his first wife’s family and went to church with them. This is what families do when they have kids of divorce. Sometimes people separate completely, and then sometimes it’s nice to have children and parents all joined up for a special occasion. Brie had three things she needed to do besides help put out the dinner. First up drinks for everyone, second was to call Marie and get the scoop, lastly open the box from Dr. Michaels which arrived earlier today. The last one had her intrigued. The last one would have to wait until after dinner. While everyone had full plates sitting around the Christmas tree the phone rang. Caller ID identified it as Loire France, Marie Volnay.

“Hello, Merry Christmas!” said Tyler, answering the phone, somewhat perplexed.

“Merry Christmas! I’m looking for Brie. Tell her this is Marie from France calling,” Marie said quite cheerily, even though it was four in the morning.

“Brie, it’s for you, Marie from France.” Tyler always was amazed at Brie and her connections. So this was nothing new, but Christmas Eve, that was different.

“Merry Christmas Marie,” Brie brightened up.

“Merry Christmas Brie, I know you are busy with family so this will be short. I have good and bad news, so first the good,” Marie said hurriedly and joyfully. “Nicolas and I are getting married this June.”

“Wonderful! I’m thrilled for you two, just thrilled.” Brie meant it. “And?”

“Oh, Brie, unfortunately the French Embassy called saying they’ve seen a video and want us to review it. They believe Olivier and his team were taken hostage and are being held captive in the middle of Africa, in the Congo of all places. How they know this, is of course, secret.” Marie’s voice was cracking, as it was hard to repeat these words, even now when it had been earlier today she found out.

“What do they want?” Brie asked her. She knew these things from her news days, if they took you they wanted something, usually money, arms or supplies, or possibly, all three.

“I think he said supplies.” Marie was unclear as to what type of supplies.

“Marie, he’s alive. We’ll find him. We will find him.” Brie was thinking, her mind whirling, putting together all she had ever known in her past positions.

“Okay, Brie, you sound like someone I know, someone who’s missing, someone who always says it will be all right, just not tonight. I miss him and I miss you. Come to the wedding.” Marie pleaded.

“I would like to go back to France and spend more time in Paris as I have a few friends there and I’d also love to see you at the vineyard. I will come.” Brie just decided that one.

She hung up and returned to the festivities of Christmas Eve, her favorite night of the year. That’s when magic happened like snow and happy feelings along with presents, family and good cheer. The fire was roaring as her sister Kristen played Christmas carols on the piano with Tyler and the kids accompanying her. She and her mom, Kate, sipped their wine and listened. Brie carefully filed the informative phone call in her brain to think about it first thing in the morning. Right now she wanted to open gifts.

“Me first, grandma, I want to go first,” said Kristen’s littlest child. And so the present unwrapping began.

Meanwhile, Brie set about opening the box from Dr. Michaels, first reading the accompanying letter.

Dear Brie,

Merry Christmas! I sincerely hope you are well, probably recovering nicely from your surgery, the ambitious nature of yours setting in by now. You are one strong woman. Daniela told me she looked up to you immensely. She told me “I want to be as confident as Brie on a sunny day in Savannah in the summertime.” Choking as I write this, in her honor I am giving you a gift that was given to her recently by Olivier. She treasured it and wore it, even if she had no place to go. Please do not put it in a box, rather wear it knowing that when you wear it, you wear it in her memory. She smiles as it adorns the neck of a friend, and I smile because Daniela is out walking in the big world she loved.

Your friend,

Dr. Michaels

Brie opened the box and inside was this beautiful vintage black coral necklace. Olivier would know since he gave it to Daniela. It was pretty. At the bottom was another letter with a post it attached.

‘Daniela’s letter for Olivier she never got to mail. Will you keep it, Brie, and give it to him when you find him? Thanks.’

Okay, this was about all she could handle on Christmas Eve. She was happy and sad, dear God, this was too much. She would find Olivier and give him resolution.

Christmas morning was quiet as Ms. Kate slept in and Brie showered and sat at her desk in her study, thinking, and drawing up plans. Sipping coffee from her Spode teacup, to which she added a little Baileys, this morning being Christmas and all; she surmised this conflict, simply. She had a letter from a dead woman to be given to a missing man, and she now owned a beautiful necklace given by a missing man to the dead woman. What the hell was going on? What sort of puzzle piece was she?

Thanks for reading! Go to gardenlilie.com if you want behind the novel information about this chapter. You can purchase the print book (Into the Vines by Kim Troike) on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I’ve decided to post just three chapters to get you into the mystery as I’m still pitching this novel. I’ll be posting a newsletter in two weeks; you can sign up with an email or just follow me here.

Photography, my Dad and I, courtesy of my brother Jon.

Chapter One

cover

 

Into the Vines by Kim Troike

Copyright © 2015 by Kim Troike.
ISBN: Softcover 978-1-5035-2030-1 eBook 978-1-5035-2029-5
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To order additional copies of this book, contact: Xlibris 1-888-795-4274 http://www.Xlibris.com  For my three gifts of life … Matthew, Megan, and Kristan. I love you.

CHAPTER ONE Don’t Forget Me

DANIELA TURNED THE volume up in her black Jeep, so she could sing along to her new favorite song. Adele was singing her hit number ‘Someone Like You’ in her soulful voice. It occurred to Daniela she liked sad songs as they made her feel so alive. Intense feelings or emotions came to the surface and made her skin tingle. Daniela continued with as many lyrics as she’d remembered. Tunes like this didn’t make her cry; they just made her dream of possibilities in her own life. Happy the night was over, Daniela reflected briefly on her patients in the ICU. Both of them were doing well and would likely be transferred to the general medicine floor in the morning, where their families could see them more. Her thoughts went to her dad, Dr. John Michaels. She was now a nurse thanks to him. He’d adopted her when her parents died tragically in a plane crash. He was the local medical doctor still administering healthcare to non-payers; everyone respected and admired him. She enjoyed nursing, and she poured her heart and soul into it-something her patients had told her many times. She guessed she had picked the right profession, at least most of the time she believed this, but on rare occasions, she found herself dreaming of her other passions. Her cell phone rang, bringing her out of her thoughts. She answered noting the caller ID read Joy, her friend.

“Hey, girlfriend, where are you? A few of us are meeting at the Stone House for drinks. Can you make it?” Joy chimed away.

“You are? Well, maybe. I’m on my way home. What time is it now?” Daniela asked as she looked at the clock on the dash.

“Daniela, come out. You never do anything. We want to see you. Jeff’s meeting us too!” Joy gleefully added, thinking of her boyfriend.

“Okay, will do. See you in about fifteen minutes or so.”

“Great. We’ll be in the cellar below the restaurant.” Joy said relieved, adding, “See you soon, girl.” Daniela hung up and immediately realized that once again, she would be going out in her nurse uniform, which was neither attractive nor practical, and she made a mental note to keep a change of clothes in her car at all times for the future. Turning off the highway, she headed back to town. The Stone House was new to her, and she liked it. Built from the local quarry, it was made completely from stone and had several hidden rooms in the cellar. It wasn’t the typical nightclub or bar. The place definitely made her smile with its uniqueness as she wondered how old it was. She also couldn’t wait to see her friends. Summer was here, and who knew? Maybe this year there would be someone special just for her. She was hopeful. Where on earth did you meet someone in such a small town? Maybe that was part of the reason why she wanted to escape out into the big world.

Down the road, she saw a car approaching, and there was nothing else around but scattered farmhouses amidst fields of corn. Then her headlights caught a deer in her lane and caused her to slow; in a split second it moved to the other lane, only to stop again. What happened next came so fast, but she remembered every hair-raising moment. The other driver swerved to avoid the deer and traveled in what seemed like slow motion across her lane. Daniela pushed her foot to the brake hard, managing to stop her car while her hands froze solid on the steering wheel. Her eyes took in the oncoming horror as the other vehicle hit a telephone pole dead on. As her vehicle came to a stop, it had moved doing a one-eighty-degree turn and now she faced the back end of the stopped car.

“Oh my God . . . oh, my God!” she breathily said, her chest heaving. She was having trouble focusing, while she blinked rapidly several times before opening her door and jumping out to run to the other car. Through the back window she could see a car seat with a small head just above the edge. Gasping, she opened the rear door and looked in to find a small child strapped inside. Grappling with the seat belt, she found the lock mechanism and glanced to the front at the driver’s seat. The person there, presumably the mother, seemed to be slumped, lifeless, and bloody. She looked at the child again, into his frightened eyes that beckoned for her help.

“Please . . . help my Momma,” he said, pointing to the driver. She grabbed him and swiftly pulled him out of the car, then ran to her Jeep. He clung to her with his head down and his little fists holding her shirt tightly. Daniela put him in her Jeep and reached for her phone to dial 911. Just then, she heard an explosion, and a small fire ignited in the engine of the car. The boy yelled out, “My momma! I want my momma!”

“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” the lady on the phone answered.

“I have a little boy. His mother’s in the car and it’s just caught on fire. I’ll try to get her,” Daniela said quickly.

“If it’s on fire, better to stay back,” cautioned the operator. “I’ll send a fire truck and ambulance immediately. Tell me your location.” She gave the street location and estimated how far from the last turn.

Daniela turned looking at the little boy, who cried, “I want my momma, please!” Tears streamed down his red cheeks. Daniela gave him a big hug, squeezing him tightly, and said, “Okay. Stay here and I’ll do my best.” Frantic at this point, she took in a deep breath, and ran back to the car to see if the fire had spread, but she didn’t get very far. A loud explosion shook her, the heat and fire burning her face and forcing her eyes shut, and she was blasted backwards from the impact. She had to get away, she kept thinking, and she began to panic. Her heart raced as she picked herself up and ran back to her Jeep.

As she reached the little boy, sirens sounded and the police and fire crews arrived on the scene. She kissed the boy’s forehead and held him tight as he closed his eyes. At that moment, Daniela cried for the loss he would feel for the rest of his life, wondering if he would remember this terrible night.

Dr. Michaels arrived on the scene and found Daniela holding the little boy. He gave both of them a light hug and asked the little boy his name. “Francis,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Francis Stauder.”

“Dad, I did what I could,” Daniela said, shaking her head back and forth before adding in a whisper, “I just couldn’t get her out. I couldn’t get there in time. The car exploded.”

“You are so brave, and you did what you could, sweetie. You are a hero to this little boy, forever,” Dr. Michaels said to his daughter, patting her cheek softly with his arm still around her. “I was told you ran to the car, even though it was on fire.” He had such respect for her as he held her tight, this special girl he had helped to raise. “Joy called and said you two had a date tonight. She will be wondering where you are. I told her I had just received a phone call from the police. I explained about the accident, but you’ll need to call her when you get a chance. I know she’ll be worried!”

“I will. Thanks, Dad, for coming. You’ve been a big help.” Daniela said amazed at how calm her dad could be in an emergency. She hoped some of this had rubbed off on her, and possibly it may have . . . An elderly woman, who had arrived just minutes ago, came over to her and held her hands out for the little boy.

“Francis, dear, oh baby, come here,” she said. “He’s my grandson.” Once she had hugged Francis and kissed him, she turned to Daniela and mouthed a thank you. She stood there with her eyes closed and hugged him for what seemed like an eternity. The whole thing was just tragic. How dreadful for them! How would they deal with this? She wanted to tell her she wished she could have done more but decided that no words would be sufficient at this time. Silence was best. Daniela blinked a couple of times and shook her head, mostly in despair. She knew what it was like not to have your parents around. People took them for granted, not treating them well or not saying I love you. Didn’t they know a beloved parent or child could be gone forever, just like that, just like tonight?

Several days later, Dr. Michaels handed Daniela a brochure from a travel agency and said, “I think you should look at this. We talked about this the other day, and with what you have been through, this may be the perfect time.”

“French Cooking School? You want me to go to a French cooking school in the Loire Valley?!” Daniela exclaimed. Her eyes grew big as she began to read aloud from the pamphlet. “Learn to cook the French way in the Walnut Grove kitchen at Volnay-Lavalle Vineyard in the Loire Valley. This is an exclusive private vineyard near Chateau de Chambord, where the valley meets the sea, the seaside where Monet spent his days of leisure, painting. Paris is a mere three hours away via an express train. Quaint cabins are available for our cooking students. What about my job? This is short notice.”

“You have a month off, if you want it. I saw your supervisor today at work.” John smiled. He knew she needed a little time off and would welcome the idea of Paris.

She waved the brochure in the air and yelled out, “I must call Joy! She’ll have to help me. I need to go shopping, like right now!” She kissed her dad and ran up the stairs to her room. Daniela continued reading the brochure upstairs. “Chateau de Chambord is French Renaissance in architecture, built in 1519, and is the largest castle in the Loire Valley. Originally built as a hunting lodge it took twenty years to construct and some have suggested Leonardo da Vinci may have had his hand in designing it. The owner, Francois, died and no one lived in it for a century.” Unbelievable thought Daniela. “Chateau Chambord was the inspiration for an animated film in 1991, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, as the Beast’s castle.” Interesting, maybe I’ll find my beast she thought and laughed aloud. She felt as light as a butterfly, like she was floating and landing on individual flowers as she descended the stairs two at a time. Bet I get there and never want to come back to this town, she mused to herself.

Waving goodbye, she knew she was ready for this. Daniela did not like flying. She blamed the stomach twisting, chest tightening, and anxious thoughts on her parents long ago plane crash, but she bounded for the gate with her bag full of new clothes, nonetheless, showing no hesitation. She was going to Paris! I wish I had taken a French class or listened to audio books or something. I know nothing! Oh, well, I’ll just have to wing it, she mused, as she boarded the plane.

The flight attendant, a pretty French woman with dark hair and red lips, set her up for a movie with ear buds and took her drink order. “Mademoiselle Daniela, champagne for you. Please enjoy!” said the flight attendant with a light, gorgeous accent. She handed her the small bottle and a glass filled with bubbly. Ooh la la, thought Daniela, thinking like a French gal, as she giggled. She sipped her champagne as she leaned back to watch the in-flight film in French, wanting to immerse herself in the culture as soon as possible. The male protagonist was very smooth talking and extremely handsome, and so far the plot seemed to involve him taking some beauty on a moped to the seashore. Daniela was at two glasses of champagne by the time the plane was mid-Atlantic, and she didn’t have a care in the world. So much for being worried. Daniela drifted off and dreamt she was in a cabin, looking out the window towards the sea.

The Aegean Sea was a bright turquoise blue, and sparkling white caps were crashing against the sandy grey shore. The sky was washed denim, and she took it all in as her lover came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, pulling her into his chest. She shivered with anticipation and desire as his breath tickled her neck and his tongue traveled the outer shell of her ear. Daniela’s chest heaved, and his hands traveled down and moved lightly across her stomach. This sensation felt electric and radiated across her body. His right hand traveled up searching until he pushed her shoulder into him, causing her to gasp in pleasure. Turning her head, she met his mouth and they kissed luxuriously.
Daniela took a deep breath, startled, and tasted her lips, expecting something besides champagne. She had fallen asleep and had been awakened by a dreamy kiss. She straightened herself in her seat, embarrassed, before getting up to go to the bathroom. Champagne . . . Flying . . . Crazy dreams. Good dreams.

When she was done, she returned to her seat. “You okay?” asked the lady next to her.

“Yes, sorry, I was dreaming. Did I snore or anything?” Daniela asked sheepishly.

“No, but you said a couple times, I want, I want.” Her seat companion smirked a bit. “Oh, I did?” Daniela was wide-eyed now and blushing.

“What do you want, girl?” asked the lady.

“Well, probably to escape from all my troubles as of late,” Daniela said. That sounded much more appropriate than asking for a French kiss.

“Prepare to land,” she instructed Daniela, “the captain came on when you were gone.”

Landings were the hardest part for Daniela. Oh, how she loathed them. She always waited for the plane to slow down to what she assumed in her mind was about sixty to one hundred mph, after which she figured even if it did crash, she would probably survive. This fear of flying, she realized, would never go away. But she knew she was brave and most likely could conquer anything that confronted her. That thought made her smile.

“We made it,” the lady said. “Where are you headed, my dear?”

“I am going to cooking school!” Daniela exclaimed.

“What a coincidence! Me too! Let’s see . . . Paris, then a fast train to Le Mans and on to the vineyard, the Volnay-Lavalle Vineyard, with its own cooking school.”

“The Loire Valley, they say, is like a huge vineyard, and it goes from Orleans all the way to the coast!” Daniela could hardly contain her excitement.

“Yes . . . that’s what they say,” Brie politely acknowledged. “I’m Brie Kelly, from Savannah. Nice to meet you,” Brie stated proudly, offering Daniela her hand.

“Daniela Michaels, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio,” Daniela put forth and added, “pleased to meet you, also.”

“Time for departure . . . Paris, here we come.” Brie was rather excited to see what she’d been missing. Brie Kelly stepped aside, allowing Daniela Michaels to be first off the plane. Daniela couldn’t wipe the grin off her face; she breathed in the air, so glad to be back on land and ready to discover. They traveled through the airport to the TGV station in terminal 2. Daniela spun around and flashed her grin at Brie, and then high-fived her, not caring if she thought her crazy.

Daniela was glad that Joy had accompanied her shopping prior to the trip, and she was especially pleased with her new hairdo, a short chin length blunt cut with caramel highlights accenting her natural brunette color. Daniela had never cared much for her appearance before, or doing much about it, but with her new hairstyle and fashionable new wardrobe, she couldn’t help but feel a bit diva-like, like a new woman. Her new jeans fit like a million bucks, and Joy had picked out a black sweater for Daniela to wear, saying that black was always in style. The sweater fit like a glove and had a scoop neck. Daniela was wearing her favorite necklace, which had cost only six bucks, from Claire’s of all places. There were three lucky charms hooked to that necklace: a rhinestone studded horseshoe, a four-leaf clover, and the word ‘Luck.’ Large hammered copper circles dangled from both ears and a citrine ring completed her ensemble.

Brie informed Daniela that this trip was to celebrate her fortieth birthday, and it was a present for her, something long overdue. Brie was a knockout, dressed to the nines and very avant-garde. She had below the shoulder length blonde hair, a perfect figure, and she was every bit the sophisticated woman her name indicated. Daniela knew she would enjoy getting to know this lady named Brie and maybe learn a few things from her, hopefully, beginning with her confidence and ease. Maybe she’d learn how to say a few words southern style. “I don’t know about you but I’m starved. We have been in a car, on a plane, now on a train . . . and who knows what’s next?” Brie sounded exasperated. The attendants passed out sparkling water and ham and cheese croissant sandwiches with sides of fruit. Both napped after lunch. Departing from the train they took a taxi to the vineyard. The taxi ride would be about thirty to forty-five minutes and the two couldn’t help but turn their heads to capture the view out the windows. Magnificent colors of green and gold, as there was yellow mustard growing between some of the vines and purple lavender everywhere. The hillsides were majestic and ever-so often an old castle appeared. This was new for both of them.

“There you go, Mademoiselles. Enjoy!” The taxi driver brought their luggage into the main house, which was very old and very large, a Baroque styled mansion. The black wrought iron gate in front lined the pathway and surrounded the house, giving it a regal look, and there were colored flowers and greenery surrounding the property. Walking inside through the heavy, ornate, dark wooden door, Daniela felt she had just stepped back a few centuries in time.

She headed for the front desk and noticed a television broadcasting the cable news channel in the lobby. On the TV was a little child of maybe three or four years in age holding an old guitar with a few missing strings. She was pretending to play it, singing a song. Children ran around behind her in and out of tents. The TV caption read: Children Are Starving. The commentator asked, “Thousands are on their way to camps escaping the drought. Will they make it?” Daniela shook her head. These children were starving and here she was to make food, very fancy food. How ironic. Put the thought out of your nurse brain, and relax she told herself. The weatherman seemed to be indicating a warm and pleasant twenty-four degrees Celsius that day for Paris and the Loire Valley region, which sounded fantastic to Daniela.

“There you go, ladies. Pierre will take you to the cabins via the golf cart. We know you will enjoy,” said Marie, who had introduced herself as the chef of the Walnut Grove kitchen. She smiled at them and pointed to a table where a chilled bottle of champagne awaited their parched, thirsty lips.

“Well, why not? We’ve arrived!” Brie giggled and poured them a small glass each before toasting to a wonderful trip and the weeks ahead here at the cooking school.

“To Brie, and me, and France,” Daniela said with a smile and toasted her new friend and new country.

“To France, tomorrow.” Brie tasted her champagne, and it tasted mighty fine.

The next day, they met up at the main house in the kitchen. Their instructor, Nicolas, a likeable man with dimples and a toned body, was already there. His eyes sparkled with joy, and his smile lit up the room. Daniela easily adored him right off the mark. Brie saw her checking him out and nudged her a little, whispering, “Step back, he’s taken. I saw him kissing our chef, Marie.”

Daniela quickly chuckled. “What? You think I’m on the prowl?” asked Daniela.

“Yep, he’s taken, so withdraw, make a new battle plan,” Brie said with a roll of her eyes and some serious smirk.

“Now that everyone is here, I want to welcome you to the cooking school, the Walnut Grove kitchen in the beautiful Loire Valley at the Volnay-Lavalle Vineyards. I hope you come away refreshed and with a new talent to boot, French cooking!” Nicolas winked and in a charming vernacular, began his introduction.

“He’s a charmer, Brie. Is this how they grow them in France? So suave, assured . . . ooh la la. I like!” Daniela showed her enthusiasm.

“Oh, honey, I have heard that about France, and I believe we are in for a treat—and not just the baked kind.” Brie raised her eyebrows high and pursed her mouth slightly as she let out a laugh.

“Basically, ladies and gents, you have five days of class this week and five next week, with scheduled days off. These would be good days to go to Paris, Mont Saint. Michel, or the coast,” Nicolas informed the group. “The following Saturday is the final meal preparation; a fine elegant French dinner, with which all of you will assist. I am the sommelier, and I will instruct you not only on wines and champagnes but also cheeses and desserts! Bon appetit!” he said and winked again at the group, nodding at Daniela. Nicolas then greeted Marie and introduced her.

She began, “Hello, everyone, I’m delighted to meet you. We will get better acquainted this afternoon, as per schedule. Nicolas will take you around the vineyard and school for a tour, provide you with lunch, and I’ll see you after that.” The classes would consist of four students each to one instructor, switching at lunchtime. All the other guests were from America, and one newlywed couple was from Ireland. A mother-daughter duo came from Green Bay named Sylvia and Joan, and they were paired with the honeymooners named Allie and Craig. Brie and Daniela were paired with a couple from Miami named Thomas and Eric.

The vineyard was gorgeous and well maintained. There were beautiful paths to roam along and explore with miles of gently rolling hills in this valley and the Loire River beyond. The painted fence contained the grape vines and seemed to go on forever, as far as the eye could see. It was mid-summer so things were in bloom with white blossoms and greenery throughout. She would definitely have to check out the grapes if there were any yet on the vines. Out the back of the chateau or mansion were flowers hanging off the pergola and all around the house. The colors of the roses ran from peach and pinks to deep rose or scarlet and were sweet smelling, too. Bundles of Russian Lavender spilled out into the garden’s eating area. She saw a white tablecloth over a round table with a pitcher atop and glasses surrounding it. She swallowed knowing she was thirsty. Daniela’s eyes feasted upon this beauty that drenched her soul, making her feel as though she was seven again and in a fairyland. It was as though a fairy godmother might appear and grant her every wish.

Smiling, she pulled herself together and came back to reality, finding Brie who looked exhilarated, also. Brie pointed out the gorgeous blue and rose hydrangeas near the chateau to the newlyweds, who seemed to be eyeing the cabins beyond the gardens. On Monday, the second day of class, Daniela looked at her schedule and noted it was marked for vegetables and fruit prep with Marie. This excited her, as she had always wanted to learn more ways to prepare vegetables, especially with herbs. She and Brie were together today.

“Good morning, class, bonjour!” Marie smiled warmly and welcomed all. “Before we begin this morning, we shall take a short walk to the garden.” Marie walked them out through the back door, and they followed her down a stone path lined with small grey boulders. On each side, tall flowers with orange blossoms and roses with fuchsia colored petals greeted them. Ahead of them lay trimmed hedges meandering along the curvy path until they reached a clearing that housed an immense garden. A small white cottage with green shutters was next to the garden. Beyond that, Daniela could see the Loire River, and the path that led to it. She made a note to check it out when she had more time. Beauty was everywhere, and it overwhelmed her as she looked over at Marie. Warmth exuded from this woman, starting with her smile and continuing right down to her mannerisms. Marie looked inquisitively at Daniela. “What do you love the most? Which is your favorite vegetable?”

Daniela took a deep breath, and her eyes glossed over. She blinked, and her throat went dry. “Marie, you remind me of someone.” She paused wondering if this was the right time. She continued. “You remind me of my mother. My mother loved her garden. She used to send me out to pick beans and strawberries all the time.” A single tear rolled gently down Daniela’s face as she thought of her mom.

“Oh, honey, she must have been special and sweet. I’m flattered I remind you of someone so special. This is an honor,” Marie said quietly, and she came up next to Daniela and wrapped her arm around her shoulders.

And with those tender words, Daniela let the tears flow. She smiled back at Marie. “I’m sorry, I just miss my mom.” She had liked this woman instantly and enjoyed the comfort she gave. Marie directed her attention to the rest of the class.

“Over here is the vegetable garden. We need carrots and green beans, as well as herbs. The items are listed on the sheet. Brie, honey, you pick the herbs.”

“Daniela, sweetie, you okay, dear?” she asked. Daniela nodded and began gathering the vegetables with some of her other classmates.

Back in the kitchen, everyone set about assembling, cutting and looking over the recipes before them. Daniela noticed that Marie was just about to put her apron on when Nicolas appeared in the doorway and gave her a nod to come talk with him. “Carry on, class. I’ll be just a moment or two.” Daniela moved so she could see them better, and she noticed Nicolas put one hand around her waist as his other hand caressed her face before he leaned in and whispered in her ear. Marie smiled softly and closed her eyes contentedly as Nicolas tenderly kissed her forehead. Daniela felt a blush creep up her cheeks, realizing she had just been privy to a very intimate moment between the couple, and she lowered her gaze.

Brie noticed and helped Daniela to re-focus on the task at hand. “Daniela, dear, come help me here with the herbs for the green beans and almond dish.” Marie returned to class, and Daniela watched as Nicolas couldn’t take his eyes off her as she made her way back. It was easy to see that he loved her deeply. Daniela knew that was what love looked like, or she hoped, and she thought it was beautiful. Her own parents, when she was quite young, used to push her on the swing set behind their home. She had loved it. Then when it had been time for her to go inside and get a drink, she would look out and see them kissing and looking so sweetly into each others eyes. Her dad had been so gentle and soft spoken, telling her mom to take her for a bath and he would clean up the kitchen from dinner. If he was stressed, he had not showed it, just smiles and love. Her dad worshiped her mom. That was Daniela’s conclusion. Brie had told her that Marie was in her forties and that Nicolas was younger, though quite mature for his age. He certainly looks happy, Daniela thought to herself. She did not find it odd as she was used to seeing older men with younger women relationships back home in America. Why couldn’t it be the opposite?

The next morning Daniela peeked out the cabin window after showering and noticed children running around the open grassy field.

“What’s up, Daniela?” Brie asked upon seeing her puzzled expression.

“There are children playing outside. I know Marie has twins, but I’m counting about seven or eight now. I wonder if they’re all Marie’s.”

“I have no idea,” Brie said, after taking a peek out the window. “Come, let’s wear sundresses today! I’m feeling Parisian.” Brie pulled out her dresses, which she had purchased from some of the finest shops in Savannah. She, of course, had the shoes to match, as well as the handbags.

“Fabulous! Milady!” Daniela pulled out a floral sundress of her own and a pair of golden leather sandals but then looked up at Brie. “But how will I cook in this?” Daniela laughed at the idea but then decided she didn’t really care. When they were dressed, Daniela and Brie walked to the main house, and along the way they noticed the children again. This time, she saw they were pointing up to the sky, where she saw a small airplane performing flying maneuvers, a loop de loop, overhead. She knew a little about flying from reading and talking with her uncle about her parents. “Maybe the kids know the pilot,” Daniela shouted over the sound of the airplane.

“They are certainly excited!” Brie added. “Goodness, we are late, let’s hurry up, Daniela!”

When they were finished with their morning class, Marie informed her students that they would be having lunch outside on the patio with a special guest who’d just arrived. The patio itself was covered with a pergola that was wisteria entrenched, though it had already bloomed. Daniela noticed lights were strung up all around the outside, under the trees, and across the dance floor, which was situated off to the corner. Lunch consisted of a starter with prosciutto ham and farmer’s cheese on homemade croissants, followed by a simple salad of greens from the garden and a quiche using the eggs from the hen house, all of which had been made or collected by the class. Brie had made the drink today which was a favorite of hers from the South, consisting of half lemonade and half sweet tea.

“Oh, Daniela, what will we do when we have to leave and go back to meals at home?” Brie said with a laugh. Before Daniela could respond, seven or eight little ones came out the back door with plates in their hands to join the class. Three of them called Marie, Aunt Marie, while the rest gave a nod or half smile.

“Here he comes!” shouted a little boy. He pointed to the sky, where a plane was descending down below a few trees in the opposite direction of the river.

“Momma, can we go see him before lunch? Please! Please!” The twins asked of Marie.

“Go! Yes, go follow Elise and Erika, all of you!” Marie directed the bunch to go with her children. Ten minutes or so later they all sat outside with glasses of champagne and took in the beauty of the day and the vineyard. The children returned and with them a tall slender bronze haired man, who laughed and strolled along with them. They dragged him rather exuberantly, and Daniela couldn’t help but wonder who this mysterious stranger was?

“Mr. Olivier, how long will you stay?” asked Erika, one of the twins.

“What did you bring us?” inquired little Jackie.

“Come eat some lunch!” demanded Elise, twin sister to Erika.

“Okay, that sounds wonderful.” Olivier managed to squeeze in.

“Pick me up!” said one of the smallest. The children were beside themselves as they shouted questions, one after the other. Daniela watched the scene before her, fascinated.

She smiled and nodded to Olivier, when he acknowledged her with a brilliant smile. Her heart sped up and skipped a beat, and she took a deep breath, which caused Olivier to smirk and make his way towards her. Nicolas joined the group and sat down next to Marie and Brie, and he then chatted to a few classmates. “Enjoying some champagne, I see.”

“Hi, I’m Olivier, and you are . . .” the stranger held out a hand.

“I’m Daniela. It’s so nice to meet you.” Daniela smiled. She felt drawn to this man and did not want to cease eye contact. Olivier sat next to Daniela and began a conversation with the others.

“How’s the littlest one doing? Eating well?” Olivier asked. “Did the doctor come by last week?” Marie assured him that all was well, miraculously, and that the boy would make a full recovery. Daniela was curious, as she saw Olivier smile at this and his shoulders relax, as he sat back and ate lunch. Olivier then raised his glass of champagne and proposed a toast in French before he translated it in English. He said, “To the students, thanks for a wonderful lunch, and to Marie and Nicolas, thank you for your wonderful hospitality! Cheers!”

After mingling for a while, Olivier asked Daniela if she would care to join him in the kitchen. Once inside, the two of them set about cleaning up, Daniela thought Olivier a total gentleman for doing the dishes without having to be asked—not that he should have had to, considering he was a guest. Her mind spun a little as she wasn’t quite sure of herself, and she smiled as she joined him at the sink. Standing next to Olivier, she couldn’t help but notice how tall he really was, and she spent more time admiring his wavy hair than she did helping him at the sink.

Olivier began to ask Daniela a few questions about herself, so she relaxed a bit and told her history to him—some of it, anyway. Daniela dried the glass plates, and when the sink was nearly empty, she reached out for the last plate, which Olivier had just finished scrubbing, and accidentally brushed his hand with hers. This small touch tightened the muscles in her hand and forearm, and she felt a little flutter in the area below her ribs. Olivier let the water out of the sink, smiled at her and rinsed this last plate; his fingers pulsed around the edges. He then handed it to Daniela keeping a hold on it to tease her, causing her to giggle. She wanted to ask him so many questions but decided on one. “How long are you staying?”

He glanced over at her again, smiling, raised his eyebrows and asked, “Well, how long are you staying?”

Immediately, Daniela thought he was brazen, bold, and apparently unafraid, especially, when he put the emphasis on the word you. But when she looked into his eyes, they were light and playful and she didn’t know what to think. “I’m here for the two-week cooking school, which ends next week,” Daniela replied.

“Well, we don’t have much time then, do we?” he whispered. Daniela wasn’t sure she liked that last statement, but when he smiled at her, it looked so genuine that she couldn’t help but smile back. She was pretty sure she had just been charmed by a Frenchman, and she liked it. When Daniela finished putting away the dried dishes, Olivier walked her out to the patio to join the others, and went to find the children to continue playing with them. Daniela left him to his games and decided to go for a swim instead in the pool, something to get her mind off this stranger named Olivier.

“Today is day five. Don’t forget, you have tomorrow and Sunday off to enjoy at your leisure. I hope you enjoyed sleeping in this morning. Beef and game are on the menu today.” Marie began the lesson and Daniela’s mind wandered off as she thought about Olivier’s smirk from the day before. She hadn’t seen him again after his visit, although she had secretly hoped she would when she and Brie had gone for their morning stroll before class. Everyone in class started talking about their plans for the weekend. Daniela had not yet made hers because frankly, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. Actually, she did. She just wasn’t sure she had a willing partner as yet.

“I’m tired, Daniela, and I’ve got an early train tomorrow. Lights out for me, I’m afraid,” Brie said, smiling at her new friend.

“You’ll be all right by yourself tomorrow?” Brie asked, though she knew Daniela would be fine.

“You may come with me if you like.”

“Of course, I’ll be okay. Have a good night, Brie. I’m not tired yet. I think I’ll read out on the back porch,” Daniela said, retreating with her book and a candle in the other hand. After about an hour, Daniela decided to head up to the main house for a glass of wine. She found a bottle of pinot noir and poured a glass, noticing how quiet it was in the main house tonight. No one seemed to be around, so she decided to take the bottle with her and set out on the trail.

In spite of the dark night, she was able to find her way by the light of the full moon. The path took a left turn around some tall hedges, and she heard singing in the distance, which seemed to be coming from lower down by the river. She wondered who could be singing, she followed the path and headed towards the melodic voice. Pretty soon, she could see the river, large and flowing calmly to her left, and to her right was a campfire with three people sitting around, the flames from the fire glowing on their faces.

“Welcome, Daniela! You found us. Please come and join our fun!” Nicolas called out to her. She could see it was Marie and Nicolas along with Olivier, who was playing guitar and singing. Daniela looked at the guitar—it resembled one she had seen recently but couldn’t remember where. She held up her wine bottle and glass for them to see. “Here, come sit and relax. Olivier’s music will put you right to sleep,” Marie said jokingly. “Good choice with the pinot noir, by the way. Nicolas gives you high marks for that one.”

“Let’s see . . . a campfire, wine, and Olivier’s music . . . It sounds like a lullaby that would put a baby to sleep,” Nicolas said softly, teasing his brother and putting his head to Marie’s cheek. Nicolas winked at Daniela, and she smiled back. She almost felt a brotherly kinship with Nicolas, as he always made her feel at ease. Daniela looked longingly at Nicolas and Marie, thinking they made quite a pair. Earlier today, she had found out the whole story. Marie was a three-star chef and Nicolas, her boyfriend, was the co-owner of the private vineyard. She did not know the other owner’s name, only that Nicolas’s parents had left him the vineyard five years ago, and he had since built it into a first class destination, complete with a private airport and cooking school.

Olivier continued playing the guitar and singing. At one point, he broke out into a comical lyric and sang, “Roses are red, violets are blue, my heart beckons, unto dear you.” He smiled at Daniela, who was now blushing; her cheeks felt like they were burning hot. Olivier began another song, and Daniela decided to close her eyes, enjoying the sound of his voice. She must have nodded off, though, because the next thing she knew, Olivier was whispering to her, “Daniela, let me walk you back. I think you’re ready for bed.” He then added, “Thanks, bro, for fixing my guitar. New strings are just what it needed. Much appreciated.”

“Hey, you two are brothers? I think I see the resemblance,” Daniela remarked.

“Never,” Olivier spoke, “will he admit it.” And then he laughed.

Walking along the path, Olivier asked Daniela. “Are you warm enough? It can get chilly down by the river.”

“Thank you, but I feel very warm at the moment,” she said with a sleepy smile. She had just met this man yesterday, and she could hardly take her eyes off him. What made him so beautiful? Was it his eyes, the crook in his smile, the way he looked at her—or maybe it was all of the above? She wondered if he was attracted to her. Tonight he wore a V-neck undershirt and old, faded blue jeans. She noticed a silver chain around his neck with a medallion on it and asked to see it.

“This? Oh, yes, this is St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Someone gave this to me a few months ago.” He said this very softly and held it out for her to see before kissing the medallion letting it fall back in place. He winked at Daniela and continued walking up the path, which led to the main house and her cabin. He walked her to her door, and she turned to thank him and say good night.

Olivier leaned in and braced himself with his left hand against the wall of the cabin, towering over Daniela. She looked up and became mesmerized by Olivier’s green eyes, feeling intoxicated. “I want to kiss you,” he whispered and waited for her response.

“I want that, too.” Daniela felt a warmth travel through her. Olivier touched her cheek softly and traced from her jawline to her lips, where he pulled her lower lip down with his thumb and paused there, beckoning Daniela to respond for him. When she did, he guided her back against the wall, and Olivier met her soft lips with a surge of surprising boldness. Their kiss became passionate. His hand then reached for the back of her neck, and he played with her hair. She could feel his kiss throughout her whole body, and opening her eyes, she saw his passion written all over his face. His eyes steadied upon her, drawing her in, and Daniela slid her hands up to his neck and then moved them down his chest. She needed to feel his skin on her hands, to feel how real he was. She broke away and breathed deeply before giving Olivier a chaste kiss on the cheek. “I’m going in . . . I need to go . . . I should go now.”

“You should go.” Olivier lowered his gaze to the ground and continued, “Sleep well, Daniela. Don’t forget to put me in your dreams.” With a kiss placed gently upon her hand, he turned and left. Daniela awoke early and made coffee. Walking around the cabin, she noticed a letter had been slid under the front door. Picking it up, she saw her name penciled on the front in neat cursive. Brie had already left for Paris for the weekend, so the letter must have been dropped off after she had gone. Intrigued, Daniela opened the letter and saw it was from Olivier.

Daniela,

I want to show you the vineyard and go swimming. Will you join me? Be ready by 11 o’clock.

See you then,

St. Nicholas

Smiling, she looked at the clock and saw that it was 8:30, meaning she had plenty of time to prepare herself. She couldn’t wait. She was nearly trembling with excitement. Olivier arrived and they loaded up the mule, a special golf cart to take them across this gorgeous vineyard, which seemed to go off into the horizon.

Olivier continued on to the orchards, which consisted of apple, peach, and cherry trees. Stopping there and getting out, he climbed a ladder, picked a small handful of cherries from one tree to feed to Daniela. They were delicious. Vineyards, gardens and orchards . . . Daniela decided she could get used to all this organic goodness. Olivier took her for a spin to a large garden she had not seen before. He explained the kind of vegetation that was planted there and when it would be harvested. He seemed to know more than she would have guessed about the land surrounding the cooking school, and this impressed her. They returned to the vineyard, descended from the mule and walked along rows of fresh grape leaves and new vines while they looked for a place to picnic.

When they had finally found the perfect spot, Olivier laid down the blanket he packed for the trip and said, “My favorite of all the grapes is the pinot noir, due to its temperament and delicacy. The grapes are light and the taste endures, with a fullness that rounds out the palate. Does that make sense? Now I sound like my brother, Nicolas.” Olivier laughed at himself, found the bottle of wine and opened it for them.

“Yes, it makes sense! I brought a few appetizers from cooking class you might enjoy,” Daniela introduced her basket of goodies. Sharing some pinot noir and several cheeses, Daniela had Olivier describe a few types of cheese to her.

“Ah, it is so buttery, smoky, and very delicious.” Olivier eyed Daniela and let out a laugh and shook his head. Daniela noticed how calm and relaxed Olivier was today, unlike the previous night at her door when things had been so tense. He had drawn her to him with such a fire; she had felt his need and desire, which had so perfectly matched her own, but today he was a gentleman.

Today, there was no rush, no worries, and it seemed like time was standing still, with nothing bothering either of them. A little bird chirped on one of the fence posts, and Daniela looked over at it and up to the beautiful blue sky. Blissful and light, she felt weightless at this moment.

Looking at Olivier, Daniela felt a heat rising to her cheeks, and her lower lip tingled. Her eyes began to glaze over with longing, which did not go unnoticed by him. He reached out and touched her delicate chin, gliding two fingers down her neck and resting them at the base of her throat. They eyed each other longingly, both wondering what was happening between them. Olivier was lying on his side, whereas Daniela was sitting up with her legs crossed. He did not pull back his touch but rather moved his fingers slowly down her chest. Reaching the center of her rib cage, he paused and looked up at her. She leaned into him and began to kiss him softly and innocently. It was the most perfect date Daniela had ever experienced.

Daniela woke early in her cabin the next morning. Brie was set to return later that day, and she couldn’t wait to hear all about Paris. Daniela thought perhaps she should have gone too, but she was holding out until the following week, after school had finished but before the finale. She wasn’t sure what she would tell her roommate about her kissing Olivier.

Was this anything more than a Frenchman flirting with an American?

Daniela wasn’t sure why she decided to ignore the usual angst she experienced at the beginnings of a relationship even though it was her nature to worry. Her need to over-analyze had pretty much driven her adult life, severing any chances she had previously had at romance. Was no one good enough for her or was she just too afraid to leave her father all by himself after everything he had done for her?

While stirring around the kitchen, thinking about making some coffee and breakfast, she noticed another envelope under the front door. “What? Again? No way . . .” she exclaimed to herself.

Daniela,

I had such a wonderful time yesterday. Did you? Let me take you out for coffee. Meet me near the Ramble Garden at 9 o’clock.

Olivier
She looked at the clock on the wall and realized she would have no time for a shower, as it was 8:40. She ran to get dressed quickly, and put her hair in a French twist. She wore white capris, black leather flats, and a loose purple peasant shirt. She looked stylish in a simple way, and she thought it fit the mood she was feeling—a little Parisian. She hurried to the Ramble Garden and found Olivier waiting on a bicycle.

“Hop on! I’ll pedal us to get our coffee.” Olivier smiled as she got on the seat behind him, and he took off once her hands were firmly secured around his waist.

“Are you pedaling us to Paris?” Daniela asked sarcastically, after a while. She breathed in his scent from his shirt and smiled.

“No. Patience, my dear,” Olivier quipped.

They passed a forest, and she took in the view of the Loire River. The path they were on traveled along the river, and she noticed that no one was out and about. Looking across the river, she spied a massive structure off in the distance. It looked like it could be a castle, so she pointed it out to Olivier for confirmation.

“That’s Chateau de Chambord across the way. It’s somewhat famous, I guess,” Olivier informed her.

“It’s beautiful!” Daniela proclaimed. She kept staring at it until she could no longer see it, entranced as she was by its beauty. When she turned her head back to see where they now were, she realized that Olivier was stopping at a beautiful little stone house.

“Here we are. Your coffee awaits!” Olivier said enthusiastically.

“Is this where you live? I mean, when you are here. You sleep here?” Daniela asked. “Out here by yourself?”

“It’s quiet, and I love it. Come inside,” Olivier said eagerly. He grabbed her hand and brought her into his little home by the river. It was simple and clean—and unbelievably did not resemble a bachelor pad.

“I hope you like it,” he said comfortably, to which Daniela nodded her head in obvious approval. “Um . . . let me get the coffee.” Daniela noticed that all the rooms blended into one large room. The kitchen and family room were on one end while the bedroom and sitting room were situated on the other end. A fireplace separated the large room in the middle. Olivier set out their coffees, and they sat at the kitchen table and talked.

“What do you do?” asked Daniela. “You know, for a living? Do you fly planes? Are you a commercial pilot?”

“Of sorts . . . it’s complicated. I do fly planes, and yes, I travel all the time. Let’s talk about that later as I want to hear about you, and what it is you do.”

Olivier sipped his coffee and waited for Daniela to talk about herself. And she did. She talked about her parents and their plane crash when she was twelve; Dr. Michaels adopted her and how well he has provided and cared for her. Daniela told him about nursing school and how it was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. She told him how she wanted to be a professional tennis player or a clothing designer. Most of all she loved kids but would never work with sick ones in the hospital as this would break her heart.

Briefly they talked about the cooking school and her love of cooking.

Smiling he said, “Finished? I could listen to you all day.” He pulled out Daniela’s chair for her and said, “Come, please. Let’s dance,” said Olivier. “What kind of music do you like?”

“So much, really, um . . . I’m from Cleveland so we like to rock n roll. Springsteen is good. You choose.” Daniela said trying to think of other bands. The two of them began to dance around his little home by the river. He had captivated her in every way—her mind, body, and maybe now, a touch of her soul. The way he looked at her made her feel like she was special, like she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on.

Somehow, Daniela felt more right, more womanly, than she’d ever felt before. Daniela felt like she was home; never had she felt so at peace and alive.

Sunday and Monday went by rather slowly, but Daniela didn’t mind, as she really preferred that the week not end. She had caught up with Brie and heard about her delightful trip to Paris. She realized Brie didn’t seem to ever run out of breath as she carried on and on about her new favorite city. Brie wanted to return there on her next trip abroad, since she had met a few people that she would continue to correspond with via the internet. What Daniela really hoped for was to see Olivier again. They had not set anything up, but that was the way he was–spontaneous. But Tuesday rolled around with no word from Olivier, and Daniela began to worry.

“Daniela, I have something for you. It’s from Olivier. He wanted me to give this to you as he had to leave Sunday morning. He will be returning this afternoon,” Marie said kindly, bringing Daniela out of her dark thoughts.

“Oh, thank you! I was wondering where he was,” Daniela said, surprised.
Dearest Daniela,

Sorry for this brief note. I had to leave for an emergency and it could not wait. It is imperative that I talk with you—and very soon. I must tell you something. I cannot keep this from you any longer. My heart is in anguish, and I do not want to hurt you or keep anything from you. Please meet me Tuesday evening at the campfire by the river come nightfall.

Olivier
“Oh. Dear God! What could that possibly mean?” Daniela whispered aloud, walking back to her cabin. She did not know what to feel. Maybe there wasn’t anything to this “relationship” after all. Maybe the French were like this—so suave and intense you fell quick and hard. She was still happy she had met Olivier, though. She felt a thrill whenever she was near him, and life in general seemed to have taken a turn for the better. When Daniela arrived, the fire was roaring and giving off much needed warmth, as the night had cooled beyond what a June night normally should be. Olivier strummed his guitar, and he smiled at her as she approached, before getting up to give her a warm hug.

“Hey, how are you?” he asked most genuinely.

“I’m good, and you?” Daniela replied, looking up into his eyes to see if he really was all right.

“Oh, Daniela . . . I must tell you what it is I do. It is very dangerous, but I must keep doing it,” Olivier began. She could see the strain and worry in his face. He seemed unsure of himself all of a sudden. His eyes welled up with tears, causing her throat to go dry. Her hands began to tingle like they had pins and needles. She sat down next to him by the fire and listened to him as he told her about his work.

“Daniela, I fly into remote African areas, searching for lost migrant children whose parents have succumbed to their long and trying journeys. These children are already starving before they begin these migrations. Some are emaciated; most are hungry but must walk hundreds of miles in search of food or an outpost that will feed them. Many have only a mother, and some mothers have up to six or seven children of all ages. The look in their eyes just kills me. There is only sadness there, or no look at all, just vacant stares, like they are not even there.”

Olivier closed his eyes, and opened them focusing on the task so as not to let his emotions carry him to release. He rubbed his forehead, and then he let out a sigh. “In other areas, some have been taken by the militia and put to slave labor in the jungle. I can hardly be cheerful for them, since so many will die. I’ve seen children’s bodies strewn about, with wild animals feeding on their corpses. What these children have seen, no one should have to see.”

Daniela wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and her eyes welled. “You are going out there to save these kids. You’re a blessing to these children, Olivier. What a wonderful thing to do. You are putting yourself in harm’s way to save others.” She could not believe what she had heard, and the effect it had on him. She was overcome with emotion; never had she heard someone in such pain over the plight of others. She cried for him, and yet she wanted to help him. “Let me come with you! Please, I beg you.” He looked at her, and he knew she meant every word, but he could not allow that. He did not want her to see what he had seen. He did not want her heart to be broken.

“No, Daniela. Although you would be great for the kids, I can’t allow that.” He hugged her and turned in to kiss her gently and lovingly.

“How do you find them?” Daniela wondered. “We use night vision cameras, like the military uses. It works very well out there in the middle of nowhere, in the desert and near the jungle’s edge, the rain-forest and mountain areas.”

“I saw something about this on the TV when I first got here. The news was running a special about children wandering through the desert with minimal clothes, no parents . . . I saw, I . . . I saw a guitar like yours, with only a few strings left. A little girl was strumming it and singing. But there were no adults, just a tent in the background . . .” Daniela remembered.

“You probably saw a piece of footage from the documentary, where I take my guitar and play to the children at night to comfort and amuse them just a bit,” he said humbly. “My guitar strings were missing that night because we had to use them to cook over a fire,” he said, shaking his head. “That was a long mission, and food was getting scarce, so we had to shoot birds for food.” He shook his head.

Staring at the fire and mesmerized by the white-hot glow, their thoughts frozen in time, a spiritual empathy formed between Daniela and Olivier. She shared with him, her heroic save of a little boy named Francis, and the harrowing death of his mother. Olivier understood her when she told him she felt, wonderful and awful, all at the same time. He had experienced the exact same thing in the desert.

After the previous night’s discussion by the fire, Daniela needed to free her mind from that turmoil. She thought a trip to Paris, as she had not been there yet, would lighten their moods. Olivier agreed to drive her, and somehow she knew he would take the extremely long way. Hours later, they drove along the water’s edge out by the sea. Olivier explained to Daniela about the cabin by the sea where Monet had stayed and painted the ocean.

“Actually, it’s called Belle Isle. We’ll go there first and then to Paris,” Olivier told her.

Driving on a little moped through a curvy section along the coast was so pretty and refreshing. The salt air and wind invigorated Daniela and improved her mood tremendously. She had her arms around her new friend, and everything about the two of them just felt right. She gave him a good squeeze, put her cheek to his back, and breathed in deeply Olivier’s scent. “Let’s stop here,” said Olivier. He pulled over to a little cabin that was made of stone, with curtains hanging in the old windows. It looked ancient but well cared for. Olivier pulled out a key from his pocket.

Once inside, Daniela saw that it was immaculate. Everything was white—the floor, the walls, the curtains, the bed, even the tables. There were fresh flowers on the table, with multiple colors in the arrangement. It provided just the right touch in the little seaside cottage. Daniela went to the window and opened it, letting the sound of the crashing waves of the sea and the heady salt air invade her senses. As she turned back toward Olivier, she realized he was already behind her, and he grabbed her waist and turned her into him further. He enveloped her lips in a playful kiss and they pulled each other closer.

Paris could wait, thought Daniela. Paris did come much later that night, before midnight.

Arriving in Paris at dark was magnificent, looking at all the lights. The both of them appeared wind worn but neither minded. Olivier and Daniela had little time to experience something so moving and so grand. Olivier had made a call for a dinner reservation at Café Roussillon near the Eiffel Tower, but first they would share a bottle of champagne, Moet & Chandon, at the famous Café de Flore! This only fueled them with energy to finish the evening. Daniela had never seen anything more beautiful than Paris at night and to be with Olivier . . . well, nothing could be finer. She most definitely felt like she was falling in love as she smiled at her date.

“Are you happy?” Olivier looked upon his little Daniela. She was sweet and didn’t seem of this world; too kind, he thought. They were seated for dinner at café Roussillon by the window on the second level, over-looking Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

“Extremely, though I have no idea what to order.” Daniela read her menu but decided quickly. “You order for me, surprise me.”

“Love to, you trust me that much?” Olivier was flirting right back at her. He ordered dinner for the both of them and winked at the waiter. “And for dessert we’ll share La petite mort.” He waited for a response. The waiter’s eyes enlarged and he smiled at Daniela.

“What did you say?” Daniela asked frantically.

“Oh my dear, you should have studied your French.” Olivier couldn’t help himself, but seriously looked at her and said, “I ordered you the little death.”

“What? Okay, what is it really?” Daniela persisted. “It is chocolate mousse, strawberries and cream.” Olivier smiled.

“Somehow, I know it’s more than that. I can handle it whatever it is, bring it on.” Daniela said and vowed to herself to learn the French language as soon as possible. Languishing over dinner with the sound of each of their voices became mesmerizing, an enchantment of the senses. The pair shared their La petite mort of strawberries and chocolate with a side of cream. Olivier would tell her later tonight of the real meaning behind the little death.

“One more stop, more of a famous place, and then we need a nightcap. I must also touch base with a comrade, for just a minute. He usually hangs out there late at night.” Olivier informed Daniela.

“Sounds fabulous, let’s go.” Daniela was a bit dreamy, but this was Paris, and she didn’t want to miss a thing. Once inside the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, Olivier ordered two whiskeys and set about to talk with his friend. His friend was a fellow pilot, and the two of them would be leaving soon from the vineyard to Africa. Their business took ten minutes, and he returned to Daniela.

“My dear, as you can probably comprehend; we are not going to the vineyard tonight. We’ll stay at my place in the city. Is that okay with you?” Olivier spoke quietly.

“You have a place here in Paris, too?” Daniela asked.

“Yes, you like music, correct? It’s off the tourist’s path, a local joint. My place is above the club.” He hoped she’d like it.

The next day at the vineyard was a busy Saturday as everyone was preparing for the French dinner celebration by the cooking school students and staff. While the chefs from class busied themselves with all the final details for the special dinner, Olivier amused the children outside. The patio tables were set and the lights lit up the atmosphere, which made the night seem magical. The class had selected the evening’s playlist. Daniela kept thinking about Olivier. She couldn’t help it—he crept into her thoughts every moment since their Paris trip together.

Now, though, the last night was here. Everyone would be leaving tomorrow, late in the afternoon for Paris with a morning departure. She had no idea what she would do. They had not talked about anything further or into the future, and Daniela wondered what Olivier’s thoughts were regarding the apparent relationship. Daniela hoped at the very least that they would exchange telephone numbers and email addresses, and perhaps they could skype or find a way to visit one another. She could hear music playing outside. Her selection for the evening was Springsteen. Brie had requested a Southern rock band and this caught Daniela by surprise; she hadn’t thought her the rock “n” roll type. Daniela reminded herself to grab Brie’s information before they went back to the U.S., since she wanted to be sure to keep in touch with her new friend whom she liked very much.

Tonight was to be a festive night and certainly not one made up solely of goodbyes. Everyone had arrived in formal attire of long dresses and suit jackets. Most had taken extra care in doing their hair for the evening. Apparently, a few Parisians always made it out for this event, despite the long journey, knowing the students always did such a great job. Word of mouth about Marie and her little cooking school had obviously spread around. The cooking school at Volnay-Lavalle Vineyard was a gem, hidden in the valley. Several guests from Chateau de Chambord had also arrived, and in total, there were about fifty outside guests who had come for the great food, music, and dancing. The children had planned a surprise skit for all the guests, and Daniela, along with the guests, had been highly entertained.

“Oh, Marie, the children are so adorable! Where on earth did you get those costumes?” Daniela asked when she noticed some of the children running about.

“I made them. Aren’t they festive?” Marie said, smiling.

“Absolutely adorable! They look like precious little circus trainers,” Brie interjected. “All of them were mighty proud when they marched their little animals around the ring. Even the baby pig complied with the walk.”

“Ah, yes, the only obstacle was the cat, which little Victor had to carry. They loved running their very own circus! Congratulations to all of you, as well as to them!” Olivier was beaming.

“Dinner and its seven courses have stuffed me. C’était merveilleux,” said one of the Parisians.

“This is so fabulous, Marie. If word gets out, you will be flocked with guests every other Saturday night. I just know it, dear!” she added. Shaking her head with a giggle, Marie stood.

“Tonight, a few of my staff will do the cleanup so that all of you might enjoy a dance or two. Thank you to the students for such a fine French dinner that any Parisian would think made by a Frenchman himself!”

“Daniela, please . . . time for us. Will you dance with me?” Olivier held out his hand for her to join him, and they made their way to the dance floor just as a slow tune began to play. Daniela did not want this night to end; thinking such thoughts only made her sad. She looked up at Olivier as he held her close. Staring down into her eyes, he whispered, “What?” But he knew. He put his lips to her ear and whispered again. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“And . . .?” Daniela was having difficulty keeping her nervousness at bay.

“Let’s take a walk under the light of the moon,” Olivier said, leading the way. He was always so pleasant, so sure, and so confident, just like her dad. Walking through the gardens, with the moonlight as it guided their stroll, Daniela realized that Volnay-Lavalle Vineyards was a divine place for Olivier to come to when he wasn’t flying and saving children.

“You are very lucky to have this place to come to, Olivier. Your brother takes good care of you. Marie, too!”

“You’ve got that right,” he said with a grin. “So, what do you want to do about leaving? Do you want to keep in contact?” Olivier laid his cards on the table.

“I, I do, but how can we? There’s such a great distance between us.” Daniela had no idea what to say next. Worry began to set in for her, her brow furrowed.

“Let’s exchange cell and email information and take it from there, okay?” Olivier offered, contemplating his next thought. “I must fly while this drought continues, as things are only getting worse. The predictions . . . well, you don’t even want to hear about what they’re predicting might happen,” Olivier finished forcefully and with conviction, shaking his head.

Once they were back at Daniela’s cabin, Olivier offered to help her pack.

The next day after breakfast, Daniela prepared to see Olivier off. The kids were running around and pulling on Olivier. “Mr. Olivier, please bring his momma home to him!” Erika, Marie’s twelve year old, begged him. Her big brown eyes were round with fear as she pointed to a little boy in the group of children. She looked scared, and she pleaded again. “Mr. Olivier, I know you can find her! You found his little brother.” Olivier had to look away, to keep emotions at bay. He had, incredibly enough, saved both brothers. The boys’ father had apparently died, and the younger boy and his mother had become separated from the rest of their group. After rescuing the older boy, Olivier had gone in search of the boy’s mother and brother some fifteen miles away via airplane. That was the night another little girl had strummed the guitar with the missing strings, which Daniela had seen on the news. He eventually had found the little boy, but nearby the mother had lain dead. He’d told the brothers that he couldn’t wake her up after she had stumbled to the ground, and told the boys numerous times that their mother was gone and not coming back.

Regardless, every time Olivier left on his missions, Marie’s girl would remind him to find their mother. It was difficult for Olivier, especially since he was attached to the orphans. These children had done nothing to deserve the horrors they’d faced. Daniela knew Olivier did this to make a difference in people’s lives. What he did mattered in the world. She smiled at Olivier, but she was worried, because she knew how dangerous it really was. She’d heard about the war, the gun fighting, the dictators, rebels, and even the natural disasters.

“Well, it’s time. I must go to the plane.” Olivier started for the door. He needed to get moving soon so his resolve would not weaken at seeing Daniela as he hated goodbyes. He grabbed his bags. Everyone followed him out to the airstrip. Olivier would be flying with a co-pilot, as well as two volunteers on this journey. They had enough supplies to last them a month, just in case, and they carried plentiful supplies to hand out to displaced villagers. Each and every child gave Olivier a huge hug and kiss. They loved him so!

“We’ll be here next week, waiting for you, brother. Take care!” Nicolas shouted over the roar of the plane’s engines.

“Please take care.” Marie said and kissed him. Then she hugged Nicolas and put her head on his shoulder, worry marring her features. Daniela hugged him and kissed him. He had her step up into the plane so she could see inside. She looked around and wished she were going with him. She saw the guitar now with all the strings. Music was how Olivier related to the children, gaining their trust so they would feel comfortable around him. He was one of them, a type of soul that children could see a mile away. Attempting cheerfulness, she kissed him. Her throat swelled and she was forced to blink away her tears. But she could not hold back, as she had no idea when she would see him again. What if she didn’t see him again? That idea hurt. She did not want to let him go. Her eyes traversed back and forth and looked up to the sky. Why did she feel this way?

“Oh, please, I don’t want you to go.” She put her hand to her mouth and gasped, swallowing so hard it hurt. Turning slowly, she stepped down.

“I’ll be thinking of you!” he said when she reached the tarmac. Olivier’s face was tense and pained, knowing what lay ahead of him. He now had the additional burden of knowing what he was leaving behind—the possibility of something with Daniela. He gave her a concerned smile. Daniela covered her mouth with her trembling hand, while her eyes questioned the whole unbelievable scene. She did not want him to go and murmured silently, don’t forget me . . . . Daniela managed a slight wave, her still-trembling hand falling to her side as the plane taxied down the runway. Silence descended upon the group as they watched the plane take off and fly toward the Loire River, and beyond to desert, jungle and war-torn destinations.

Thank you for reading. Kim

 

August Review

My heart wants to share a couple poems with you after I saw the picture of the little boy from Syria all over the news yesterday. He was bloody and shell-shocked. What can we do?

iThinkstockPhotos-480956567

Magnolia

WAITING

In this cave dusty and hot, but sheltered,
We made it bombs exploding, running fast.

My arms wrap tight and squeeze, shaking
And frightened, more than you sweet babe.

Little one, I will not show you my hurt foot.
It’s there as I smell the familiar red puddle.

My sleeve is wet but there is no pain.
This garment absorbs your escaping fears.

Whoever finds us, my hopes run far and high.
It will be the good men to take us home.

Maybe brother made it, sigh, mom and dad, too.
Though they lay still as we ran, lead lungs.

I will keep you sister close by me, evermore.
No bad men with pointed guns shall find us.

Steal I must the dead man’s gun and shoot
Whomever deems us harm or fateful ills.

I promise this to you as I feel the warmth of
Your breath, your beating heart, next to me, I see.

I see what I must do and be, your guardian-
Your angel here on earth; your need is my plight!

 

And this next poem my dear readers is a Villanelle, a most difficult one to write using skill and dedication to a beautiful format. The villanesque or villanelle has French origins with Italian meanings, such as a rustic song or dance. The poem contains five tercets, a quatrain with 1st and 3rd lines alternately in repetition, and ending with both refrains included in the last stanza.

 

INSIDE THEM

Run run, thoughts of freedom bring tears young heart.

Children in danger, hunger and war persist; I’d say.

Strength, energy cursing inside; too young like fruit so tart.

 

Days filled with mutilation and murder do not chart.

Unsettled remote areas, barricaded from world; dead bodies lay.

Run run, thoughts of freedom bring tears young heart.

 

Find ways to safety do not be shot hauled off by cart.

No safe refuge, streets deserted; humans run from fray.

Strength, energy cursing inside; too young like fruit so tart.

 

World watches news comes so fast to be what part?

Hoping, we outsiders with shocked eyes do it today.

Run run, thoughts of freedom bring tears young heart.

 

Families, moms and dads, kids used to shop at mart.

Happy times, memories, celebrations of life; we pray.

Strength, energy cursing inside; too young like fruit so tart.

 

Society lessons unlearned disconnect seen in art.

Mighty wishes of peace, still; miracles in month of May?

Run run, thoughts of freedom bring tears young heart.

 

Strength, energy cursing inside; too young like fruit so tart.

 

*From Autumn Quotes by Caroline Clemens*

Amazon