More on my 2013 To Do List: Sea To Shining Sea

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Yesterday I posted 10 Ways To Make 2013 Your Best Year Yet, in which I also shared my To Do List for the New Year. Since I was in somewhat of a hurry to complete the article before we hosted yet another family gathering, I left out one of my biggest items: finishing my sequel to Water Signs, Sea To Shining Sea. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that nearly three years after starting it I am still stuck in Chapter Five for a variety of reasons — not the least of which involves working for a living (at this point in time, writing books is still a luxury for me and a minimal source of income, though definitely a worthwhile effort).

But it’s time to get back on track.

I’ve long shared the belief of  heavy-hitting conservative powerhouses like Glenn Beck and the late, great Andrew Breitbart that culture is politics. And after watching Agenda: Grinding America Down about five times, it’s pretty obvious that if liberty-loving Americans don’t make an effort to undo the formidable damage by progressive infiltration of pop culture, public education, academia and the media, we can forget all about ever electing Constitution-loving representatives in any level of government. Then kiss the freest nation the world has ever known goodbye.

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Well I am not willing to let that happen without a fight — all while keeping a positive, optimistic and determined outlook. As Glenn Beck states in his New Year message:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

These are the times that try men’s souls, and putting America back on the path of freedom may not be easy – but “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

So in 2013, what do we need to do?

First, you need to make a commitment. It’s going to be harder than ever to stand for liberty, freedom and small government in 2013. You need to be prepared to stand up and stand firm for the things that you know to be true.

Second, we need to align ourselves with like-minded people who really believe in the principles of freedom. If you look to the Constitution as a guide, you’re likely to find some allies. Why can I sit down with an atheist like Penn Jillette and find common ground? Because we both believe in the same basic principles of freedom and liberty that were part of this country’s founding. I guarantee you, there are more people in this country who want small government and personal responsibility than those who don’t – you just need to seek them out and find that common ground.

Third, we need to take back the culture. I said it earlier this year – conservatives have all but given up on culture. I’ve been working with my company on some exciting new plans for next year and beyond that will see us injecting new art, music, and entertainment into the cultural sphere. But I can’t do this alone. If you’re a creator or an artist, you need to be out there creating your art, filming your movie, singing your song. And if you’re not an artist, you can support and share the work of people who are putting their work out there.Inspired by Glenn Beck’s New Year’s message, I am going to finish my sequel this year, along with continuing to co-host CRF Radio

Emphasis mine.

Visit the site to read the entire call to action. Beck has inspired me to get back on track to complete my novel, which places my main characters Madeline and Ken on the front lines of the Tea Party movement:

After sixteen tumultuous years, destined lovers Ken and Madeline Lockheart finally have it all—a blissful marriage, a beautiful home, two healthy children, fulfilling work and a renewed sense of faith and patriotism. But during one significant business trip abroad, the couple will personally discover just how treacherous and absurd the world has become.

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When a joyous event becomes a source of contention with the “medical experts”, and an important telecomm deal implodes thanks to government-imposed political correctness, Ken transitions from successful sales executive to determined candidate for office. And while he’s always enjoyed a good reputation and the respect of his community, he’s in for a rude awakening as Sunshine State politics quickly turns friends into enemies.

Having landed her man at last, Madeline valiantly endeavors to create close bonds with his offspring, in spite of their mother’s endless attempts to discredit her. In the wake of unexpected and simultaneously uplifting and tragic news, she’s forced to summon the same strength and courage that has always guided her in the past.

Spurred on by steadfast faith in God, genuine love of country and unwavering fidelity to each other, Ken and Madeline will ultimately come to understand the broader significance of their star-crossed union and the esoteric value of their journey from sea to shining sea.

Speaking of Beck, I completed Agenda 21 the other day, which is an absolute must-read and a perfect example of contributing to pop culture as an artist and a patriot. I will post a review soon, but in the meantime, check it out here.

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Chapter Four — Sea To Shining Sea

In this next chapter, Ken informs his concerned mother about Madeline’s pregnancy, the possibility of one or both of the babies having Down syndrome and her harrowing visit with Dr. Harper. In one touching scene, readers are reminded of the close bond Ken shares with his ever-supportive mother as well as a fond memory of his childhood and a flashback to Madeline’s announcement that she’ll never be able to have biological children. Here the plot also begins to delve further into the political focus of the book, laying the groundwork for Ken’s eventual run for office, prompted by the loss of his business deal and his livelihood caused by the gross incompetence of politicians in Washington D.C.

From RINOs vs. Tea Party to moral dilemmas to job losses, these characters and their relationships will be further put to the test. Can they hold tight to their faith in God and each other to emerge victorious?

∞ Chapter Four ∞


“Ken? It’s time to get up, honey,” Paula’s voice was soothing and calm as she peered into the guest bedroom of her house, where her youngest son had sought refuge for a few hours of much-needed sleep. Fully secure in the knowledge of Brian’s medical diagnosis, he’d returned to his parents’ home in Royal Oak Hills at his mother’s insistence. She dreaded the thought of him boarding yet another grueling, cross-country flight, especially after such an emotionally exhausting incident, and had successfully convinced him to leave Brian in the company of his mother and potential stepfather while he tended to his own well-being.
“You’re no good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself,” she’d cautioned him sternly, adamant that his protests were not going to overrule motherly concern and intuition. In the end, Paula won the battle, much to the delight of her equally worried husband, who nevertheless, had an ulterior motive for wanting to get out of there. While he’d also shared his wife’s interest in their son’s obvious need for rest, he couldn’t wait to get away from the distasteful scene at the hospital with Erin and her beau.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kenny!”

His mother’s tone was firm and reassuring as she interrupted his descent into downward-spiraling despair.

“Listen to me: do not give in to your fears. God has blessed you with incredible strength, talent and character. You have always handled every adversity that life has thrown at you, and you will handle this, too. Your father and I are so proud of you, and I want you to know that we’re here for you, Madeline and the kids, whatever may come.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

And then, the final blow.

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

“What?!” she shot up in bed, nearly causing the laptop to crash to the floor. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she shouted out into the empty space surrounding her.

“Erin’s boyfriend? The out-of-touch Palm Beach RINO? That’s who this stupid party is backing in the special election?  Oh my God…I can’t believe it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

Though not entirely sure it was the right thing to do, Madeline’s palpable disgust with Washington D.C. and genuine angst over her hardworking husband’s career-related frustration compelled her to take action. Certainly Kenny would understand even if he didn’t fully agree with her decision.  And whatever his reaction, she’d cross that bridge if and when she got to it.

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

Frank Henley,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Lockheart
Boca Raton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

“Ugh, I thought these idiots were mostly concentrated in Austin, Hollywood and Seattle,” Maddy sighed angrily.

“Where’s their hero, Congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent? Probably speaking to college kids somewhere in the States, calling for the CIA to be taken out. Or maybe he’s here visiting Vancouver on the taxpayer dime to further incite anti-American sentiment.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter Three – Sea To Shining Sea

So I’ve decided to share Chapter Three of my sequel to provide a better understanding of where the story is heading, in the hope of receiving feedback from my blog readers. Obviously, the themes contained within this second novel delve much more deeply into current events, politics and culture. Whereas Water Signs’ weaved cultural commentary, spirituality, romantic love and family bonds into a story about two star-crossed lovers who ultimately find their way back to each other, Sea To Shining Sea takes a much more direct, political approach.

The bad economy has destroyed Madeline’s successful career in internet marketing in the tourism industry, so now she’s freelancing as an editor, content writer and copy writer while singing part-time in a restaurant/club to help make ends meet. Ken’s high-powered position in the communications industry is threatened by political correctness, creating a tremendous amount of personal and professional stress. Ultimately, the loss of his job thanks to the cowardly members of the US Congress inspires him to run for office as a grassroots conservative “Don’t Tread On Me” candidate who must buck the GOP establishment as well as win a difficult race against a Democrat.

In the midst of all of this comes the surprising and welcome news that Maddy is pregnant with twins — which is tempered by the reality that one of her babies may have Down syndrome. In writing this book, I am attempting to defend and uphold traditional values and conservatism in all of its forms: social, fiscal and national defense while hopefully crafting an entertaining love story/family drama. And while some real life events from my own life are fictionalized here, just as in Water Signs, most of the plot incorporates public events like the Tea Party, FISA Act and 9/11 Trutherism.

If you haven’t already, please read Chapters One and Two first. Looking forward to your comments!

∞ Chapter Three ∞


Madeline gazed at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, awestruck by the reality of her medical condition, now confirmed not once, not twice, but three times. Strewn across the tile floor small, empty packages with accompanying instructions, and plastic sticks bearing blue + signs provided telltale evidence that all things were indeed possible with God. After an acute, initial bout with fear and insecurity, it hit her somewhere between the second and third test—she was actually having Ken’s baby! Kenny, the man she’d loved from afar for most of her adult life, the man she once thought lost to her forever, and the one with whom she’d been sharing a heretofore completely unexpected and incredibly fulfilling marriage, had given her yet another unanticipated gift. How could she possibly feel anything but overflowing gratitude and excitement?
Reflecting the gamut of emotions she’d experienced over the past several hours, her tear-stained cheeks and puffy eyes called out for attention as she reached for her favorite moisturizing wash and turned on the spigot. She splashed cool water on her face, luxuriating in the revitalization before patting herself dry with a plush, thick bath towel. Still clad in her pink satin robe, she was contemplating the best way to break this joyous news to her husband when she heard the key turn in the lock of the Penthouse door, immediately followed by the full-bodied sound of his deep voice—laced with detectable anger and annoyance—calling out her name.

It was a tone normally reserved for his kids when in need of discipline, or for his ex whenever she stepped out-of-line; rarely did he ever direct it at Madeline. However, after a long, grueling day spent placating executives, fighting against the US government’s absurd policies and worrying like crazy about her when his repeated calls consistently resulted in frustrating voice mail responses, his patience had worn quite thin.

“Madeline! Where the hell have you been? Why haven’t you returned my calls?” he demanded as he approached the bathroom door, having quickly exhausted all other possibilities. Maddy had remained silent, suddenly regretful for having added to the stress of the day. As she stood there staring at his uncharacteristically disheveled form—his normally impeccable appearance having inevitably degenerated into a wrinkled mess, thanks to a hectic, 16-hour workday—she struggled to find the words. Her heart pounded furiously as she took note of his crimson cheeks and the simmering emotion reflected in his piercing blue eyes.
Frustrated by her lack of response, he repeated impatiently, “Do you have any idea how worried I was about you? I’ve been calling you for hours!”

He stepped forward and, setting his briefcase on the floor, placed his hands on her shoulders while his eyes continued to study her face. “Tell me right now—what’s going on with you?” His tone had transformed from anger to genuine fear and concern, as his mind raced at the possibilities.

Madeline took a deep breath, praying that her unexpected news would be well-received, thus absolving her from her earlier emotional breakdown and capitulation to insecurity. She suddenly felt incredibly guilty for even questioning his reaction, given their history. Hadn’t he stood by every promise he’d made to her thus far?

Clearing her throat, she began. “I am so sorry for worrying you, Ken. It’s just that I was so taken aback by the news I was struggling to come to terms with it myself. I—”

“Please tell me you’re ok!” he interrupted, panicked thoughts pounding furiously through his brain.

“Yes, I am fine,” she reassured him assertively, placing her hands on his forearms. “I’m just still in shock, that’s all.”

Then as a big grin spread across her face, “I mean, I know where babies come from and everything; just never thought at my age, and after everything the doctor had  told me that I’d ever get to experience the uh—blessed consequences—of being madly in love with my husband.”

Her big brown eyes gazed into his as she steeled herself for his reaction. Slowly, her words sank in, causing a genuine eruption of unbridled joy in his heart.

“Madeline, are you telling me you’re having a baby?” His tone reflected the excitement that was now coursing through his body. Still, after a marathon workday, he needed to be sure his imagination wasn’t playing tricks on him.

“Yes! Yes sweetheart, against all odds we are having a baby!” Maddy confirmed exuberantly as he lifted her off the ground in a big bear hug. She buried her head in his chest, simultaneously grateful and relieved. “It’s definitely a miracle,” she observed in a muffled voice.

“It sure is,” he agreed, smoothing her hair with his hand.

“I’m so glad you feel that way,” she whispered. “I know you’ve been under a lot of stress with work, not to mention the adjustment we’ve been going through with the kids. And I have to confess when I first got the news I was scared how you’d react. For a brief moment, I wasn’t even sure how I felt about it, given everything that’s happening.  But I am truly sorry I ever doubted you, Kenny. Please forgive me,” she managed to blurt out through her tears.

“Hey,” he soothed her, planting kisses on her forehead, “It’s ok sweetheart, I understand. You’re coping with a lot of changes right now, not to mention the fact we’re so far away from home. I would never hold that against you. Do you know how much I love you? And how thrilled I am that we created a baby together? It’s the best news anyone could’ve given me today!”

“I love you so much,” she sighed as he set her back on her feet, his arms remaining protectively around her waist. Staring at her awestruck, it occurred to him again how truly vulnerable she could be. With her freshly scrubbed face, long auburn hair and petite form, to him she still didn’t look a day over 25—the age they’d both been that late-summer night when they met by chance in Somers Point. Now here they were in their early-40’s, about to be biological parents together. After a moment of silence, Maddy suddenly spoke up.

“Kenny, how do you think the kids will react to this? As happy as we are about it, I am worried that they won’t feel quite the same way. It’s no secret Bonnie still thinks I broke up you and her mother. What’s she going to do when she finds out about the baby?” Her voice began to quiver as she envisioned the worst.

“Listen to me,” he assured her, gently wiping away a stray tear that was trailing down her cheek, “We will deal with everything together, including breaking the news to the kids. They might actually surprise us, you know. Maybe they’ll be excited about having a new brother or sister!”

Although his words and demeanor exuded a calm confidence, he silently grappled with a persistent feeling of doubt and apprehension. Of course they’d come around eventually; but what kind of torment would they all have to endure prior to that, particularly with Erin stirring the pot? Well, it would just prove to be another occasion for him to demonstrate strength and resolve, two qualities that the events of the previous six months had already necessitated.

But now more than ever, Maddy needed him to rise to the occasion. And there was no way in hell he’d let her down.

###

Monica Rose frowned as she sat in front of the computer screen in the office of her suburban Philadelphia home. She was completely stumped as to how to communicate with her “friends” on this new social networking site her daughter had finally talked her into joining. Not content that she’d successfully lured her mother into using email the previous year, Monica’s youngest had prodded her into setting up an account and profile on cyberspace’s most popular gathering place, with the promise of “meeting” thousands of like-minded Americans from coast to coast.
The thought of venting her frustrations and fighting back against D.C. machinations with others who shared her values eventually outweighed any fears Monica might’ve harbored about losing her privacy. Besides, extraordinary times demanded extraordinary measures; she’d do anything she could to get her country back, for the sake of her children and grandchildren.
Madeline, where are you when I need you, she thought, as another error message popped up. This site was fun, but it was definitely going to take some time before she fully understood its features.
As if on cue, the phone rang; Monica reached for the receiver just as she noticed five new friend requests on her home page.
“Hello?”
“Mom? It’s Maddy.”
Monica’s face lit up at the sound of her daughter’s voice. Although her “baby” was a married woman now with a devoted husband by her side, she still wasn’t thrilled by the idea of her being so far away from the family for so long a stretch. Funny, in all the years Madeline had lived there, Florida just never seemed that distant; Vancouver, however, was an entirely different story. And it was only Maddy’s second day in the western Canadian city.
“Hey, honey, it’s great to hear from you!” Monica enthused. “I was going to give you a call in a bit, but didn’t want to disturb you too early, knowing the time difference. I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to write on my friends’ walls on this crazy site. Need your help as usual!” she laughed.
Maddy paced around the kitchen in her pink silk bathrobe, her disheveled hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. It was 7 a.m., and Kenny had just left for the office, after the two of them had shared a nice breakfast out on the terrace, soaking in the beautiful scenery and reveling in their joyous news. Although she’d planned to wait until after the doctor made it official today, she couldn’t wait to tell her mother about the baby.
“Ok, I can help you with that,” Maddy replied calmly, “but first I have some news to tell you.” For whatever reason, that nagging sense of foreboding had returned during the night, though thankfully it hadn’t led to another episode of night terrors. But it was certainly lingering, as Madeline struggled to get the words out.
“Maddy? What’s the matter; I can tell something’s wrong.” Monica’s maternal radar kicked in as she anticipated her daughter’s response.
Forcing herself to take a seat at the counter in an attempt to still her rapidly beating heart, Madeline continued. “No, Mom, everything’s ok,” she assured her in her most effervescent tone, “it’s just that…well…it’s very unexpected…a miracle in fact…I mean, the doctor swore up and down it could never happen but—”
“Maddy, are you pregnant?” The thought filled Monica’s soul with equal parts joy, excitement and dread. Blessed with ten healthy grandchildren, she’d vicariously sweated out each pregnancy, just as she had with the last three of her own children, wondering if lightning would strike twice in the form of Down syndrome.
True, her special Down son Louis had turned out to be the joy of their family, and an incredible help to his mother, especially in these later years, but still. All mothers wanted their babies to be blessed with every possible advantage in life, including perfect health. And the way things were heading, if this healthcare bill passed, the country would no longer be as safe a place for anyone with a disability. They’d be the first ones denied care, as costs – not human life and dignity – took bureaucratic priority.
“Yes!” Maddy cried excitedly. “Can you believe it? They told me it would never happen, and yet three pregnancy tests confirmed it!”
“Wow, honey I’m…stunned,” Monica finally blurted out after a long pause.
“You’re gonna be a ‘Nanny’ again,” Maddy laughed. “By my estimate, the baby will be probably be born somewhere around Thanksgiving, which is great since you, Dad and Louis were planning to come to Boca to spend the holiday with us anyway. It’d be wonderful if you and Louie could stay a little longer, even if Dad can’t take that much time away from work.”
It still amazed and impressed Madeline that, even at his age, her neurosurgeon father remained at the top of his game professionally. After all these years, he was still very much in demand for lectures at various medical associations and higher learning institutions. Young interns consistently sought his advice and guidance for their fledgling medical careers. It was truly a blessing that both of her parents continued to enjoy good health and full, productive lives.

“Mom?” Maddy asked. “You still there?”

“Oh – sorry honey, yes I am still here,” Monica assured her, attempting to regain her composure and express nothing but joy at the prospect of having another precious grandchild. With Madeline on the other side of the continent, now was definitely not the time to worry her with all of her deep-seated concerns – no matter how justified.

“My baby is having a baby…I can’t believe it!” she exclaimed in a playful tone that was strictly reserved for private conversation between her and her two girls.

Madeline however, saw right through her mother’s façade.

“Mom,” she began softly, “I know what you’re really thinking. Believe me, it was one of the first things that came to mind when I got the news, as much as I love Louis,” she confessed. “I mean, he’s wonderful, but what if I have a baby that’s not as advanced as he is, what if I am not as strong as you and I can’t handle it, what happens if instead of Down syndrome it’s something worse! I—”

Overcome by emotion, Maddy dissolved into tears, strangely relieved in a way to finally give in to her doubts. After everything her husband was dealing with, the last thing she wanted to do was add an extra burden to his load. Besides, as someone with intensely personal experience in the matter, her mother was probably the only person in Maddy’s life with the ability to genuinely and fully understand and appreciate her predicament.

“Madeline, listen to me honey,” her mother soothed. “You are going to have a healthy baby; I am going to pray hard for that. And even if something should go wrong, you are a strong, determined woman. God has blessed you with incredible strength and determination, not to mention a family and a husband that love you dearly. Everything will be ok, I promise.”

“W-what if I can’t be as strong as you were? You were so much younger than me when you had to cope with it,” Maddy struggled to gain her composure as she took a sip of cold water.

“Hey sweetie, it’s in our genes remember?” Monica admonished in a gentle tone. “We come from a very long line of strong, independent women, don’t forget that!

“They all handled adversity well, just as you always have. You inherited that toughness, too, and you are every bit as strong as I am, maybe even more so. I am so proud of you for everything you’ve accomplished, and for who you are.”

“Thanks Mom; I love you so much,” Maddy whispered, still attempting to quell her sobs. “I really miss you, too. Vancouver is beautiful, but I just want to go home now. I want to see my own doctor. As it was, Kenny had to jump through hoops just to get a family doctor to see me yesterday; I can only imagine what it’ll be like trying to get to a good gynecologist.”

“Ugh, Maddy is there any way you can get to an American doctor in Washington State, or just go back to Florida?” Suddenly, the healthcare debate had become quite personal.

“I don’t know, we’ll have to see,” she replied. “For better or for worse, I took a marriage vow. I can’t just abandon my husband while he works in Vancouver for the next six months.”

Then, with a new thought, she added, “You know, Ken does have an old Navy buddy who practices gynecology in Seattle. Maybe that’s a possibility. Of course, Ian Forrester has lots of good connections. Seems if you know the right people here in Canada, you can get around the waiting lists. It’s hardly right, but it’s definitely reality. Scary that our country may soon find itself in the same mess.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it!” Monica retorted, prompting Madeline to laugh out loud for the first time in the course of their conversation.

“Now that’s the Monica Rose I know and love!”

“Hey honey, I just had a thought. Why don’t you email Anna Hardin? You’re so close to her state anyway…maybe it’ll lead to something, like an in-person meeting. You never know.”

“Mom,” Maddy corrected, “as much as I love Anna, what makes you think she’ll have the time to meet with little ol’ me? She has a new book coming out soon, which I am sure is keeping her very busy, not to mention a husband and four kids. I’m just a little-known internet radio host with an audience that on a good day, reaches 80 listeners—if I’m lucky.”

“I meant because of her daughter Annabelle,” Monica clarified. “Anna Hardin is in your age group and can certainly identify with your situation.”

Then with a sudden revelation, she added, “Oh Madeline, I’m sorry! We’re talking as if this is already a reality when we don’t even have all the facts. There’s a perfectly good chance that you will have a healthy baby. And until we know otherwise, that’s exactly what you should focus on.”

“You’re right, Mom,” she agreed. “I’m going to pull myself together and get dressed. Dr. Harper will be calling me at any time today, and I need to be ready to go when he does.”

“You’d better keep me posted, you hear?” Monica warned. “You know how I worry.”

“Yes, I sure do,” Maddy smiled. “No worries, I will call you as soon as I know anything more. I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too.”

With that, Madeline ended the call and headed for the revitalization of a long, hot shower before facing the news of the day.

###

Looking closely into the bathroom mirror, Maddy applied another coat of black-brown mascara as the final touch on her make-up application for the day—save for the requisite coat of rose-colored lipstick prior to leaving the Penthouse, of course. Given the fact that her fair complexion was even paler than usual thanks to her newly discovered pregnancy, wearing lipstick now seemed more of a necessity than anything else. There was no reason not to look her very best physically, which would hopefully in turn, have a positive impact spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

A quick glance at the nightstand clock in the bedroom a moment later revealed that it was nearly Noon, yet there was still no word from Dr. Harper. As she slid into a pair of crisp, white slacks and fashioned a chic rhinestone belt buckle around her waist, she contemplated calling his office. But just as she tied the sleeves of her aqua twin-set’s cardigan around her neck, she suddenly heard the door burst open, followed by the urgent sounds of Ken’s voice calling her name.

“Maddy, I have to head back to Boca right away!” he announced breathlessly as entered the room. Her heart leaped to her throat as she noted the anguish on his face.

“Oh my God, what happened?” she cried, taking hold of his arms.

“It’s Brian; there’s been a terrible accident. He got hit with a baseball during a Little League game today, and they rushed him to the hospital with a concussion. He’s still unconscious,” Ken’s words were punctuated with acute fear and dread.

“Ian’s got a private jet waiting for me, since there were no commercial flights leaving out of Vancouver until later. Thank God he was so understanding about it, but either way I was outta here!”

As he spoke, he threw open some drawers and pulled out a few articles of clothing before moving beyond a stunned Maddy to the bathroom, where he gathered his toiletries. Striding back into the bedroom, he threw them on top of the duvet cover, while she simply observed the unfolding scene in silence. It seemed an eternity before Ken finally zipped his suitcase and turned to look at her again.

“Let me go with you,” she softly requested. He gently traced her cheek with his fingers as he looked into her eyes.

“Not this time, baby. I really need you to stay here to keep anyone from getting suspicious about my motives for leaving so suddenly. I’ll be back just as soon as I know Brian’s ok—”

“Ken, how could anyone think you’re lying? They could call Boca Hospital to confirm the truth, if they were really callous enough to think you’d skip out on them on some flimsy excuse. I don’t want to be here without you; besides I am worried about Brian too!”

Ken drew her into a tight embrace.

“Look, it’s just better for everyone involved if you stay here. I’ll handle things and fly back to you as soon as I possibly can, I promise.”

Madeline freed herself from his embrace as the full impact of his words hit her. “Better for everyone involved? Don’t you mean better for your ex-wife? Tell me Ken, was she even at the game when this happened? Or did the timing interfere with her latest seaweed scrub treatment?”

Spurned on by unprecedented hormonal changes and extreme homesickness, the normally sweet, understanding Madeline had unleashed a rarely seen bitterness at her new husband, momentarily powerless against the forces of the darker side of human nature.

“I can’t do this with you now,” Ken informed her, as he planted a quick kiss on her forehead. “I’ve gotta go; the driver is waiting for me downstairs. I’ll call you later to see how your doctor’s appointment goes. I love you!” he called back over his shoulder as the Penthouse door slammed behind him, leaving a shell-shocked Maddy to dissolve into tears on the bed.

###

“I’d advise a termination right away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“T-twins? Are you certain?”

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

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

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

###

“Hey Slugger,” an incredibly exhausted, but exceedingly relieved Ken smiled at his young son, who’d finally awakened in his hospital bed.

He’d been slumped over in a nearby chair in Brian’s room, fighting to stay awake after yet another arduous cross-country flight—a rumpled mess in desperate need of a shower, shave and change of clothes. Paula and Carl had met him at the airport when he’d landed and they’d all rode back to Boca Hospital together. The panicked grandparents had been the only family witnesses to the horrifying event, Erin having taken Bonnie to her ballet class after dropping Brian off at the field.

During the short drive to the hospital from Boca Raton Airport, they’d filled Ken in on the entire event, assuring him that it had indeed been a matter of unfortunate circumstance that Brian happened to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when one of the older kids took a powerful swing at the ball during batting practice. In fact, the boy and his parents had even accompanied the Lockheart’s to the hospital, where they’d remained for several hours, reluctantly leaving only when the doctor advised it could be several hours before Brian would regain consciousness—if at all.

Caught up in the turmoil of this latest incident, Ken had nonchalantly responded to his mother’s inquiry into Madeline’s well-being with a casual “She’s ok”, temporarily forgetting the reality of his impending new fatherhood, while he fully focused on the urgent needs of his existing child. Other than leaving her a voice mail message advising her of his safe return, he’d barely thought of anything else except Brian.

Now here he was, several hours later, praying with all his strength for his only son to awaken as the same healthy child he’d been prior to the accident.

“D-dad,” he whispered laboriously, “what happened?”

“Hey son, you’re ok. You just took a big hit to the head with a baseball. But you’re gonna be fine.” As he spoke, he pulled his chair in closer to the bed before reaching out to gently caress Brian’s cheek. Surely it had to be a good sign that he’d recognized him right away.

“You definitely gave us all quite a scare, young man, but the doctor says you’ll be as good as new in a few days. Do you remember anything?”

“Not really,” the child replied wincing, “but boy does my head ever hurt!” His tone resonated with the typical dramatic exuberance of a child his age, though his words were sincere. After having sustained such a trauma, the doctor had cautioned Ken that complaints of severe headache were to be expected.

Awash in gratitude, Ken laughed in response to his son’s familiar facial expressions, tone and voice inflection. “Well, we’ll get you something to take care of that, Bri. I’m just so glad you woke up!”

“D-did you fly all the way back here from Canada for me?”

“Of course I did, son, as soon as your grandma called me with the news. I was so worried about you there was no way I could stay so far away. You didn’t think I’d let you deal with this alone, did you?” Ken’s words were soft and soothing.

“But where’s Maddy? Didn’t she want to come too?” In spite of lingering drowsiness, Brian’s endless curiosity knew no bounds.

Somewhat startled by the fact that Maddy – and not Erin – had taken precedence in Brian’s mind, Ken somberly reflected back on his last interaction with his pregnant wife, haunted by the panicked look on her face as he’d rushed out the door, leaving her alone to cope with her unanticipated condition in an unknown place, without the benefit of her own doctor and the comfort of friends or family.

“Uh, she had to stay behind, son, but she told me to give you a big hug and kiss for her. As soon as the doctor says it’s ok for you to travel, you’ll be coming out to Vancouver to spend the summer with us.” Then, adding with all of the enthusiasm he could muster, “Wait until you see all of the beautiful mountains, Brian! It’s so different from here. And there’s so much to do. We can go out on a whale-watching tour and maybe even take a cruise up to Alaska. It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”

But before Brian could respond, his mother suddenly burst through the door, genuinely relieved when she noted his change in consciousness.

“Oh, thank God you’re awake!” she cried, as she and Ken exchanged a knowing look. Erin leaned over the bed and planted a kiss on her son’s forehead.

“Hey Mom,” the child greeted her brightly. “I just woke up a little while ago. Dad was right here watching me.”

“Well, how fortunate he made it all the way back from Canada in time for that,” she noted with a twinge of sarcasm. Refusing to take the bait, Ken stood up and announced his plan to locate the doctor, before leaving mother and son to their own reunion.

 

###

The palm fronds swayed in the gentle breeze of the late evening, their familiar rustling noise strangely comforting as Ken stood in the hospital parking lot and hit the speed-dial on his BlackBerry. Having determined from the medical experts that Brian would make a full recovery, he’d stepped outside to share the good news with Madeline before heading back to his son’s room to spend the night. A flash of apprehension sliced through his heart when he’d powered on his phone, fully expecting a return voice mail message from his wife, only to discover one lone correspondence from Ian – a supportive inquiry laced with an urgent undertone of business-as-usual.

In the lonely silence of the Penthouse master suite, Maddy pulled the duvet cover tightly around her body, seeking warmth and comfort. Immediately following her harrowing exchange with Dr. Harper, she’d directed her limo driver to take her to the beach, where she’d sought refuge for several hours by the water’s edge. Gazing out at the expansive Pacific, she’d prayed for the strength and wisdom to handle whatever might transpire with her pregnancy. Later, she’d phoned her mother and sister Lori for support, apprising them of Brian’s accident and Ken’s abrupt departure, purposely omitting the part about his refusal to bring her along. Instead, she feigned agreement by assuring them that seeing Dr. Harper about her pregnancy had taken priority.

Both Monica and Lori had expressed outrage at the doctor’s behavior while simultaneously sympathizing with an utterly distraught Madeline, who couldn’t restrain the uncontrollable onslaught of tears each time she recounted her narrative. At one point during the conversation with her mother, Dr. Rose had spent a good half-hour on the line, gallantly attempting to comfort his daughter with words of encouragement and medical advice. Before ending the call, Maddy’s parents urged her to find a way to get to an American doctor, even if it meant having to travel back and forth to Washington until she could return to her home state.

And as she lay in the dark in a place that was beginning to feel more like a luxurious cage than a cosmopolitan paradise, Maddy thought of her husband. Now that she was carrying new life within her, she was even more predisposed than usual to sympathizing with his parental anguish over his seriously injured child, and the urgency with which he’d stranded her in order to make it to Brian’s bedside in record time.

Her thoughts turned to the adorable little boy with whom – in spite of all the drama – she’d started to develop a promising semblance of a truly affectionate bond. Amid all the chaos that almost always surrounded every change of custody, there were moments when she swore that child really did look at her with genuine emotion, whether they were reading a book together at bedtime or challenging each other to a race in the pool. Perhaps due to his younger age, Brian was much more receptive to Madeline as a mother-figure than was his sister, although Bonnie did wield some formidable influence over him. Whenever she’d notice him getting too close to their stepmother, she’d find a way to sabotage the unwelcome progress.

But now, the thought that Brian could somehow be lost to them – whether through permanent damage to his brain or God forbid, untimely death – dealt a serious blow to her already fragile emotional state. In the darkened room, illuminated only slightly by the moonlight slanting in through the partially closed verticals, she closed her eyes and prayed for strength and wisdom. Though she’d briefly entertained the thought of returning Ken’s call, it was enough to know he’d safely made it home. Better to get a restful night’s sleep to give her the strength to support him through whatever they’d have to face next. Just as she began to drift off, however, her cell phone interrupted the peaceful transition into rejuvenating slumber.

“H-hello?” she answered in a sleepy voice, propping up a fluffy pillow behind her.

“Hey baby, it’s me.” His tone was soft and soothing.

“Oh my gosh, is everything ok? How’s Brian?” Maddy inquired urgently, having fully awakened at the sound of her husband’s voice.

“It was touch-and-go for a while, but thank God, he’s gonna be fine,” Ken assured her, a smile spreading across his face as he pictured her in his mind. He loved her all the more for caring so deeply for his children, in spite of their mother’s immature behavior.

“And guess who he asked for the moment he woke up?” he added.

“Who?”

“You.”

“Really? That’s kind of hard to imagine,” she noted airily. “Although as long as he’s gonna be ok, he could’ve asked for Hannah Montana for all I care. What did the doctor say?”

“It was a bad concussion, and we’ll have to watch him for a while – no running around, no traveling just yet and he’ll have to stay a day or so in the hospital for observation. I am planning to sleep here tonight, and if all goes well, fly back out there by tomorrow evening.”

“Thank God,” she sighed, sinking deeper into the cushioned bed. “Wow, he really gave us a scare, didn’t he? How’s Erin taking it? She must’ve been worried sick.”

“Yeah, she’s relieved,” Ken noted, thankful his ex hadn’t overheard his little exchange with their son in his hospital room. But he was determined to get his new wife to fully absorb its significance.

“Madeline, he really did ask for you first, I swear. He recognized me right away, and then asked where you were. Seriously!” he added for emphasis. But he wasn’t quite prepared for her reaction when, instead of rejoicing, she broke down in tears.

“Hey, I thought that would make you happy,” he consoled. A moment later when – try as she might – she couldn’t seem to regain her composure, her voice breaking into more heart-wrenching sobs with every attempt to speak, cold shivers shot up and down his spine.

“Oh my God, Maddy, what is it? What’s wrong? I didn’t even ask you about your doctor’s visit today! What happened?”

His pace quickened with every question as he strode through the parking lot, bracing himself for the worst. His parents had gone home for the night, relieved by the news of Brian’s recovery, which Ken had relayed just prior to checking in with his wife. After an exhausting day, he’d been looking forward to finding emotional solace in a private conversation with her, if not the added physical comfort afforded by the warmth and softness of her embrace.

And as the stars twinkled over Vancouver, Madeline finally poured her heart out to him, while he shuddered with anger, fear and guilt for having left her alone to shoulder such an oppressive burden. While he initially struggled to come to terms with the concepts of twins and potential abnormalities, regret over the conception never once entered his mind – their current precarious financial circumstances and family woes notwithstanding. What did haunt him was the image of his sweet, upstanding wife enduring the coercion of a so-called medical professional to abort her child, without the benefit of having her husband by her side. Then again, it was probably just as well that he’d not been present in Dr. Harper’s office; otherwise, he might’ve found himself sitting in a Canadian jail cell for assault, instead of Brian’s room at Boca Community Hospital.

“Oh, Maddy, I am so sorry I wasn’t there for you!” he confessed, overcome with emotion. “I wish I was there right now. I swear, if I’d been there, I would’ve—”

“Kenny,” she interrupted, taking a sip of water, “it’s ok. I know how distraught you were over Brian. You’re his daddy, and he needed you more than I did today. Sometimes things happen that we don’t expect and we just have to handle them as best we can. No worries; I don’t hold anything against you. You’re doing the best you possibly can by all of us. I know that.”

“How do you do that? How do you always make me feel better when I’m trying to comfort you? You never cease to amaze me, Madeline Rose.” Ken took a seat on an isolated bench several feet away from the hospital entrance, and ran a hand through his wavy, blond hair. Overwhelmed by sheer exhaustion, it occurred to him that he’d been awake for nearly 24 hours and yet this marathon day still had not released him from duty.

As if reading his mind, Madeline observed, “Sweetheart, you must be so tired. I’m sorry about the way everything went down, but thank God Brian’s ok. And as long as I know I have your support, I can handle whatever might be in store with this pregnancy. I still believe it’s a miracle, no matter what some cold-blooded doctor might think.”

“There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Maddy. You know that,” he whispered.

“Good, because there is something you can do for me.”

“Name it.”

“Please get in touch with your old Navy friend Ed in Seattle, and ask him to take me on as a patient. As long as we have to be out here, I refuse to go to a Canadian gynecologist. God forbid, if something is wrong with one or both of the babies, the last thing I need is another callous, government-controlled doctor pressuring me to abort because he thinks handicapped people don’t deserve to live.”

“You got it, Madeline Rose. I will contact him tomorrow.”

“Thanks, baby. I’ll sleep better now, knowing I can at least see an American gynecologist. And one that’s an old buddy of yours, to boot!”

“Imagine that,” Ken laughed nervously, remembering a friendly rivalry from many years gone by. Wow, the older he got the more things seemed to come full circle. Oh well. If Ed Anthony was about to play another important role in his life, so be it. Madeline and their unborn babies were certainly worth the effort.

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Chapter Two: Sea To Shining Sea

Well, I must admit that the writing process for this sequel to my first novel Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal has been arduous, long and at times — dare I say? — uninspiring. Having been spoiled by the almost effortless creation of my premier book (written and published within four months) and unshackled by my own expectations or the expectations of others, Water Signs practically wrote itself as I’ve noted many times. After putting in a day at the office, I couldn’t wait to get home and hit the keyboard for several hours which typically passed by like minutes, so caught up was I in the joy and flow of creativity, aided by real-life experience and (I’m pretty sure) a whole lot of divine guidance.

So to help speed things along, I’ve decided to post the chapters I’ve already completed for Sea To Shining Sea, which comprise One through Four (Five is partially written) in the hopes that your feedback will generate the enthusiasm and constructive criticism I need to see this next book though to its perfect conclusion.

If you missed Chapter One, please read that first. As always, your comments are not only welcome but requested! 🙂

∞ Chapter Two ∞


Snow-capped Mount Ranier loomed majestically in the distance, just beyond Seattle’s impressive, cosmopolitan skyline. Amid a plethora of sparkling glass office towers interspersed with art museums and coffee houses, the Space Needle proudly reached 605 feet into the air, a tribute to modern innovation, and an equally mesmerizing sight for both tourists and locals. Although known for heavy cloud-cover and frequent rainfall, the city’s skies today were a brilliant blue, complemented by a multitude of white, puffy clouds through which a visible sun poured out its golden rays.

Against this backdrop of natural wonder and human accomplishment, Ken and Maddy patiently waited in front of the luggage carousel at Sea-Tac Airport. Thanks to some scheduling mishaps, their flight was not continuing on to Vancouver as planned. But rather than wait for another available plane, Maddy had convinced him to travel by train the rest of the way, having been captivated by the beautiful scenery. Knowing the next several months were bound to be incredibly demanding, Kenny figured a nice trek through the Cascade Mountains might be the perfect way to complete their cross-country journey. Sure, it would add another five hours, but technically he wasn’t due in the boardroom until later tomorrow afternoon anyway.
Gazing out the window a short while later, they both acknowledged that Maddy’s suggestion was fully vindicated as the train chugged along mountainous terrain populated with ubiquitous evergreens, endless fields of colorful flowers and expansive, pristine lakes.

“It’s like another world,” she raved, enchanted by the unfolding scene. “I’m so glad we decided to do this!”

“I’m so glad you decided to do this,” he clarified, “I have to admit, all I could think about was getting to Vancouver as soon as possible. I’ve got a tough agenda for at least the next few weeks, and was hoping to get to the office before the end of the business day. But it is nice to stop and enjoy the scenery every once in a while, especially now that you’re here with me.”

He leaned over and gave her an affectionate kiss on the forehead.

“Me too,” she softly agreed, snuggling into the crook of his arm. She was suddenly feeling tired again.

“Hey, doesn’t your old Navy friend live out here? The one who couldn’t make it to our wedding? I remember how thoughtful their card was. Come to think of it – what’s his wife’s name? – Sabrina? The famous local artist? She’d promised she was going to paint a portrait of us from that day. I never did get around to sending her a wedding photo as she requested. Hope she doesn’t think I’m rude or ungrateful. It’s just that we’ve been on such a rollercoaster ever since, and I feel like I haven’t even had time to breathe. It’s a miracle I managed to get all the thank you notes out to family and friends as quickly as I did.”

“Lucky for me, my wife is not only beautiful, but incredibly organized,” he marveled sincerely.

“And she has a great memory, too,” he teased. “Yes, Ed and Sabrina live in Bellevue, but he has an OB/GYN practice in downtown Seattle. God, I haven’t seen him in years. I was sorry they couldn’t make it to South Florida for our wedding. We still email every now and then, but we were never able to get together any of the times I’ve been out here.”

“Were they at your first wedding?” she suddenly asked, turning her head up to look him in the eye.

“Does it really matter now?” His voice was soft as he caressed her cheek.

“I don’t know,” Maddy sighed, recognizing the answer to her question. “I just wonder if maybe they felt some kind of loyalty to Erin and just made up an excuse not to come to ours.”

“Sweetheart, Ed and Sabrina are first and foremost my friends, not my ex-wife’s. They came to Atlantic City when Erin and I got married, mostly for me. It was the first time they’d ever met Erin and let’s just say I don’t think Sabrina was her kind of girl. She’d invited Sabrina along on a few girls-only outings leading up to the wedding and from what I can remember, they didn’t exactly bond.”

“Why?” Maddy queried curiously. Knowing Erin as she did, it was hardly a surprise to learn that yet another woman close to Kenny had problems with his first wife. And if Sabrina was as sweet and slightly unsophisticated as she’d heard, no doubt Erin’s in-your- face, Philly girl persona completely overwhelmed the poor woman.

“Not sure exactly,” he shrugged, before adding with sly smile, “but you know how catty you women can be.”
“Well, I know how catty Erin can be,” Maddy clarified, “not to mention immature and selfish.”

Her thoughts briefly turned to Bonnie and the scene at the breakfast table that morning. Then noticing her husband beginning to tense up, she suggested brightly, “Hey, since we’ll be in the area for six months, maybe we can spend a weekend with them sometime. Might be fun.”

“You know, that is a great idea, sweetheart. We’ll definitely plan on doing that,” Kenny agreed with a smile.

Hours later, they arrived at their final destination—a magnificent Penthouse on Seymour Street with stunning views of English Bay, False Creek and the North Shore Mountains. Madeline stood in awe of its unapologetic luxury as she took in the fabulous Vancouver landscape beckoning from the surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows; the state-of-the-art KitchenAid appliances; and the wall-to-wall Italian marble flooring. True, it was all a bit too modern for her taste, but as a temporary home, she couldn’t ask for anything more. After wheeling in their luggage, Ken joined her out on the balcony off of the kitchen, where a cool breeze blew in off of the ocean as the sun began its descent on the horizon.

Placing an arm about her, he whispered softly, “So it won’t be so bad being here for a while, right?”

“I think I can handle it,” she teased, wrapping an arm around his waist. “It truly is a beautiful city. I’ll have to blog about it when I post my daily commentary.”

“Sounds good,” he agreed.

“Hey, did you call the kids?” she asked, remembering their obligations. She’d phoned her parents as soon as they’d arrived in Seattle, and then once again when they’d reached the Vancouver Train Station. Already everyone felt so far away.

“Yes, I sure did. They were getting ready for bed, so we didn’t talk long. Everything’s fine, though.”

“Bonnie’s ok, after what happened this morning?” Maddy recalled the scene at breakfast, unable to shake the image of the child’s conflicted face and tearful blue eyes. That was when Kenny took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.

“Yes, she’s fine sweetheart. We had a good conversation this morning, and I told her she was going to have to respect you from now on. No more of this talking back; I will not tolerate it.”

“I just don’t understand why Erin keeps filling her mind with lies. It’s no wonder she hates me if she believes I’m the reason you and her mother broke up.

“Isn’t it enough for Erin to have a billionaire boyfriend who buys her everything she wants? Why can’t she just leave us alone! Why can’t she let me have some sort of decent relationship with your kids? I know I am not their mother and I never would try to replace her, I just—”

But before she could utter another word, he pulled her close to him; her muffled sobs tugging at his heart as she buried her head in his chest. While his ex’s actions were infuriating, cruel and incredibly selfish, they were hardly surprising. Even now, the fact that he’d ever married her in the first place remained one of the biggest regrets of his life, save for his two children.

“Hey,” he whispered, kissing her hair, “C’mon baby, it’s our first night together in a new city. Let’s not spend it like this.”

Unable to resist, he released her auburn locks from the rhinestone clip and they spilled halfway down her back. In spite of himself, he had to admit that seeing her so vulnerable was definitely a turn-on; Madeline had always elicited his protective side, which seemed to be inextricably linked with burning desire. Yes, he admired her strength and independence, but it was moments like these when he felt an overwhelming urge to make love to her, to shut out the rest of the world and its endless problems. And when it came to this very intimate activity, it was certainly a fact that they had a lot of time to make up for.

Sensing his mood, she turned her head up to look at him.

“Well, what did you have in mind my love?”

He smiled down on her, “Oh I don’t know; it’s been a really long flight and you know what they say about airplane germs! I was thinking maybe a long, hot shower first? We can decide what to do after that.”

“Oh you know that sounds really good, Mr. Executive,” she teased. “But are you sure you have time to linger under the water like that? I know how unbelievably busy you are!”

As she spoke, she slowly and seductively unbuttoned his shirt, revealing his still well-sculpted torso—the result of steadfast discipline in making time for the gym. When she laid her hands upon him and began to place tantalizing kisses all over his stomach, he thought he’d lose all control as the flames of passion erupted within.

In the very next moment, he swept her up in his arms and carried her back inside, reveling in the sound of her laughter as he searched for the location of the master bath in their temporary Penthouse home.

###

Madeline shot up in bed, startled into abrupt consciousness by a nightmare she could not recall; for a brief moment her unfamiliar surroundings nearly panicked her, until her mind quickly spun the events of the last 24 hours into a dizzying mental tapestry. Clutching the burgundy satin sheets to her chest, she took a few deep breaths to regain her composure, and reached for the bottle of water she’d placed on the nightstand prior to turning in. They’d only just arrived in this magnificent city and yet all she could think about was returning home to Boca as she took a swig out of the still somewhat chilled bottle.   That was when she felt Kenny’s hand gently stroking her bare back.

“What’s the matter?” he sleepily inquired. Judging by the ray of moonlight illuminating the room through the panoramic windows, he guessed it had to be about 2 a.m.-ish. Between the grueling trip, the three-hour time difference and the hours they’d spent making love in their new home, he thought for sure they’d both be out until at least sunrise. Maddy just silently shook her head, reluctant to share her apprehension about something she couldn’t quite come to grips with herself.

“Hey,” he pleaded, simultaneously sitting up in bed and pulling her close to him, “Sweetheart, please tell me what’s wrong. Did you have a bad dream?”

“I-I guess I did,” she finally admitted in a whisper, “But I can’t remember anything. All of a sudden, I just shot up in bed like I used to when I had anxiety disorder, back when I thought my entire life was over and—”

With that, she melted into sobs as her comforted her with soft kisses and drew her back down into the enticing bed linens, encircling her in his strong embrace. He continued to soothe her with words of encouragement while allowing her to vent, her cries muffled against his chest. Even for a sensitive soul like Maddy, this kind of emotional behavior seemed out-of-character; sure, it was going to be a bit of an adjustment living so far away from family, but she knew it was a temporary situation. There had to be more to this than just homesickness.

“Madeline, do you feel alright otherwise? I mean, besides the dream,” he softly inquired, laying a hand on her forehead.

“You don’t feel warm or anything,” he declared a moment later, “but you definitely haven’t been yourself lately. I was hoping that this trip would give you a chance to relax for a while, to forget about all of the crap with Erin and just chill out. And now you’ve got me really worried. Is there something you’re not telling me?” His words were punctuated with noticeable urgency.

“Kenny—no,” she assured him, tracing his face with her fingertips, as their eyes met, “No I just had some stupid nightmare I can’t remember, that’s all.”

“Madeline Rose, I know you better than you know yourself,” he reminded her, “And there is clearly something going on that you’re not willing to share with me. Please,  I want to help you if I can. So please tell me right now what is bothering you.” His voice was firm, but soft.

“Ok,” she sighed. “It’s not really something I can put my finger on; I just have a bad feeling, like something terrible is about to happen.”

“Like what?” His hand soothingly caressed her shoulder.

“I don’t know,” she sighed in obvious frustration. “Maybe it’s just because I’ve felt so tired lately; my mind must be playing tricks on me. I can only explain it as a feeling of dread—like something is about to go down, something that we don’t expect.”

Then in the next breath, she suddenly blurted out, “Gah! This is silly, baby. You have important work to do here and I shouldn’t upset you with unsubstantiated nonsense. Look, I hate flying, it was a long trip and that’s probably where the dream came from.”

“And what about the bad feeling?” he pressed her. As much as he wanted to dismiss it, he well-remembered and appreciated how her relentless, self-described “full-circle” feeling had ultimately led them back to each other after sixteen arduous years. Psychic or not, Maddy’s hunches had a funny way of creating reality. Suddenly it felt as if a dagger had pierced his heart. God forbid, what if her fatigue was a symptom of a terrible illness, something that had the potential to separate them forever?

“C’mon let’s get up and get dressed,” he ordered as he sat them both up in bed again.

“Kenny! It’s the middle of the night; where are we going?”

“I am taking you to the emergency room,” he announced. “I can’t stand not knowing why you’re so fatigued one more minute. Let’s go and get you checked out.”

“Ken, we’re in Canada remember?” she reminded him. We could be there for hours, only to be told to come back again next week! Besides, it’s not an emergency. Ok, so I’ve been a little tired lately, but otherwise I’m fine. Look, tomorrow’s a big day for you; please, let’s just curl up and go back to sleep. Please?” she purred. “I promise if I am sleeping in your arms I won’t have any more nightmares.”

He looked at her skeptically, but finally gave in.  Pulling her tightly against his body, he vowed to find a good doctor in the morning as they both drifted off to sleep once more.

###

North River Communications CEO Ian Forrester gazed out at the harbor pensively as he contemplated the latest news out of Washington D.C. An astute, successful businessman, he’d spent his entire life building a thriving telecomm empire in western Canada—an effort that had rewarded him handsomely with material riches, international media respect and admiration, and ownership of the 50-story office tower that housed not only his company, but a host of other enterprises.

Ever the industrious entrepreneur, he constantly craved new challenges and pathways to even greater success, which was one reason why this potential deal with American-based Coastal Telecomm was so appealing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their young executive Ken Lockheart had impressed him deeply with his business acumen, intelligence and integrity. From the moment Ian had met the company’s rising star from South Florida, he’d identified with his obvious talent, drive and determination; they were the same qualities that had also helped Ian attain a tangible measure of success after growing up in a humble, working-class home.

And up until reading this morning’s Wall Street Journal, he’d anticipated smooth sailing over the next six months as they negotiated the complexities of merging two rather large corporations into one. Sure, they’d face the typical obstacles involved in such an undertaking, but nothing they couldn’t handle—that is, until today. If the United States Congress couldn’t muster the fortitude to renew the FISA Act and protect telecomm companies from exposure to frivolous, costly lawsuits, the deal was definitely off. Ian had worked too hard all of these years; he was not about to expose his company to that kind of abuse in exchange for doing the right thing. Unlike Washington politicians and even a good portion of Americans and Canadians, he understood the dangers of the modern world, including the threat of Global Jihad. Either the U.S. Government granted immunity to the telecomm industry by renewing FISA when it expired in the next few months, or Coastal Communications could kiss this merger goodbye.

Lost in thought, Ian never heard the knock on the door. “Excuse me, Mr. Forrester?”

An attractive, middle-aged woman dressed in a tailored red suit and black pumps interrupted his musings in clear, assertive voice. Beverly McGhee had been Ian’s loyal, efficient executive assistant for 20 years; without her he’d never have been able to maintain his frantic schedule, with its ever-increasing number of business meetings, charity events and media appearances. He quickly swiveled around in his plush, leather chair, startled out of his mental ramblings.

“I’m sorry, Bev!” he apologized, “Guess I am a little preoccupied today. What can I do for you?”

“It’s ok,” she smiled, “Actually, Ken Lockheart is on hold for you. Says it’s important.”

“Is there a problem? He left me a voice mail on my cell letting me know he and his wife arrived in Vancouver last night. We’re expecting him in the office this afternoon for a meeting with the Board of Directors.”

“Yes, sir, they’re both here, but there’s a problem with his wife. Apparently she needs to see a doctor, although it doesn’t sound like something terribly urgent. He’s on line one.”

Ian sighed and ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair before reaching for his phone. This day was already getting off to a difficult start without having to deal with procuring medical care for an American visitor. By all accounts, Madeline Lockheart was a supportive, loving wife with a healthy constitution, mentally and physically. Hopefully whatever symptoms she was having were nothing more than the result of jet-lag.

  He lifted the receiver to his ear just as Beverly exited the office. “Hello Ken! How can I help you?”

From his location on the terrace, a worried Ken gazed out at the shining waters of the harbor as the sun cast an orange glow upon the city skyline. After a brief bout of fitfulness, Madeline had finally fallen into a deep sleep, comforted by the warmth of his embrace and the gentle assurance of his words. When he’d awakened at the crack of dawn, he’d been careful not to disturb her as he began his morning routine, fully aware of the packed agenda that awaited him. Finding her a doctor however, had become a top priority.

“Hey, Ian, I am hoping you can; Maddy’s been unusually tired lately, and I really want her to see a doctor. I should have insisted on it before we left the States, but she can be very stubborn.” He laughed nervously, remembering her odd premonition the night before—a troubling incident he purposely left out of the conversation.

“Is that her only symptom?” Ian questioned. “If so, it hardly justifies tangling with the Canadian healthcare system. As I am sure you’ve heard it’s a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Ken thought back to the nice young man they’d met on the train on the way to Vancouver the previous day. Their Canadian seatmate across the aisle had spent the better part of the conversation apprising them of his mother’s harrowing and nearly fatal experience with a malignant brain tumor.

Prevented from receiving proper testing in a timely manner by her country’s socialized medical system, the woman had barely escaped death. If not for the generosity of family and friends that enabled her to raise enough money to travel to Seattle and enlist the services of a well-respected neurosurgeon, her only son would’ve been bringing flowers to her grave, instead of visiting her in an American hospital as often as he possibly could during her convalescence.

His sobering story had rocked them to the core, particularly in light of the so-called “healthcare reform” debate currently raging in Congress. Madeline especially had been spending every precious free moment she could find attending town hall meetings and writing to her representatives about her virulent opposition to a government takeover of medicine. Yes, the greatest healthcare system in the world did need some improvement; but the free market – not massive bureaucracy – held the key to lower costs and greater access.

And as their new friend articulated his near-tragic tale, the shocking implications of what could potentially take place within the United States had made them even more determined to continue the fight against socialism.

Ken quickly roused himself out of his daydream, suddenly remembering his colleague on the other end of the line.

“Yes, I know all about it, Ian, but I was hoping maybe you could pull a few strings. I’ll pay whatever I have to, but Maddy really needs to see someone. Isn’t there anything you can do?” he pleaded earnestly.

“Ok, I might be able to cash in a favor from my brother-in-law. He practices family medicine not too far from where you’re staying. Maybe he can get her in after-hours tonight.”

“Oh that would be great, thanks,” Ken replied.

“No worries, but I must warn you, the board is very concerned about your government’s stonewalling of FISA. We’re going to have to discuss that at length today.”

Ken frowned as his mind shifted back to business, thoroughly disgusted by the politically correct crowd in Congress that continually sabotaged the national security of the United States. Yes, the ramifications of blocking FISA were also quite personal from a career standpoint, but as an American and an ex-military man who’d served his country honorably, he was more concerned about the message it sent to the enemies of freedom.

“Yes, I am fully aware of it, and intend to contact my representative immediately,” Ken assured him, a twinge of anger punctuating his tone. “If they know what’s good for them politically, they will put pressure on the wayward lefties in the Democrat party.”

He spoke with confidence, but given that his own congressman was a huge part of the problem, it was doubtful he’d be open to reason. In spite of the fact that the politician had been able to hoodwink his conservative district by pretending to share their values during the campaign, his every legislative action thus far had revealed a bait and switch. If he cared about his constituents’ valid concerns about terrorism and other matters, his record up to this point sure didn’t reflect it. Hell, the new President himself had declared the War on Terror over; why should members of his own party believe otherwise?

After receiving Ian’s word that he’d indeed contact the doctor in question and procure an appointment for Madeline, Ken proceeded back into the bedroom, where she was still curled up under the satin sheets, exactly as he’d left her a little while earlier. Fully dressed in one of his favorite grey Armani suits, he carefully sat down and observed her thankfully peaceful countenance—a far cry from her 2 a.m. state-of-mind.

Reaching out to softly stroke her face, he whispered softly, “Don’t you worry sweetheart, everything’s going to be ok, you’ll see.” But as he sat there watching her, a nagging feeling of dread tugged at his heart while the bustling city below embarked on a brand-new day.

 

###

Maddy typed away at her laptop while listening to Talon Grant via the live-stream feature on his website. Thanks to modern technology, she was still able to enjoy the humor and insight of one of her favorite talk show hosts in spite of the vast geographical distance separating her from his local South Florida radio audience. Aside from keeping her informed of the latest happenings both in The Sunshine State and the rest of the country, hearing his familiar voice was oddly comforting, especially now that Kenny would be gone for a good portion of every day.

She’d set herself up on one end of the sprawling kitchen’s granite countertop, where just beyond the sliding glass doors, an unobstructed view of the terrace, skyline and distant North Shore Mountains delighted her. Since their gracious hosts had stocked the refrigerator and pantry with breakfast items in anticipation of their arrival, her thoughtful husband had been able to leave her with a fresh pot of coffee, croissants and other delectable pastries—along with a handwritten note apprising her of her upcoming doctor’s appointment.

Taking a sip of the full-bodied, steaming-hot beverage from a white ceramic mug, Madeline’s face clouded over as she thought back to the previous evening’s hysterical episode. Frustratingly, the details of her terrifying nightmare stubbornly refused to come into consciousness, notwithstanding an hour of quiet prayer and meditation time, during which she listened to relaxing music and calmed her body and mind with deep breathing exercises.
Nevertheless, she smiled remembering her husband’s much-appreciated patience and understanding as he held her in his arms in the aftermath of her acute bout with this menacing, amorphous horror. Whatever its root cause remained undefined for now, yet the dread itself lingered within her being, even as she took in the enchanting beauty of her new surroundings. And now that a determined Kenny had solved the problem of finding a doctor, this evening’s events had the potential to either validate or disprove her admittedly cloudy premonitions once and for all.

Maddy sighed as she thought of her family in Philadelphia. How would her parents react if, God forbid, it turned out something was seriously wrong with her? Would God really be so cruel as to send her some kind of life-threatening illness that could potentially destroy the happiness she and Ken had waited so long to experience? After all, lots of good people had to deal with unfair tragedies, terminal diseases and premature death—her best friend’s five year-old nephew among them.

That poor child had tragically succumbed to the rarest of brain tumors – a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma – that came out of nowhere and claimed his life 10 months later in spite of the best efforts of the wonderful doctors at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.   The grieving Lombard family had been forced to accept God’s inexplicable, but all-powerful will: why should she be any different?
Madeline, snap out of it! she admonished herself, just as her cell phone rang; a big grin spread across her face when the caller’s photo appeared on her screen.

“Kenny! How are you?” From a quiet corner of the conference room in the North River Office Tower, Ken leaned back in his cushioned, leather chair and gazed out at the scenery through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Hey sweetheart, I’m ok, just wanted to see how you were. You were out cold when I left this morning. Did you get my note? About the doctor, I mean?” Although he made a gallant effort to be cheerful, his tone betrayed a palpable undercurrent of frustration and concern.

“Yes, honey I did,” she replied softly, sensing his mood. “I’ll be ready when to go when you get here.”

“Well that’s the thing, Madeline. I can’t go with you tonight; there is so much going on here right now, I can’t even tell you. Board members are freaking out over what’s going on with the telecomm legislation in D.C., I can’t seem to get anywhere with our useless congressman’s staffers, our President is apologizing again overseas as we speak—”

“Yeah, Talon was just talking about that on his show…outrageous!”

“Anyway Maddy, I don’t want to go off on that tangent because I only have a couple of minutes before they all come back from their break. I just wanted you to know that Ian is sending a car for you at 6 p.m. to take you to Dr. Harper’s—his brother-in-law’s office. He’s doing this as a favor so we can get you seen right away. The driver will buzz you when he gets there. And I want you to call me as soon as you’re done, ok?”

“I will honey,” she assured him, hiding her disappointment. He was obviously under enough stress already without her expressing her dismay that she’d be confronting her medical diagnosis alone in a foreign country. Then she chided herself for being so dramatic; after all, she spent many years of her life handling various difficulties without a man by her side. If Kenny could possibly be there, he would. But these were difficult times that demanded unprecedented action and patience.

As if reading her mind, he replied softly, “Thanks for understanding sweetheart. I really wish I could go with you, but this meeting could drag on until at least eight o’clock. As much as that stinks, at least I’ll know a medical doctor is getting to the bottom of whatever this fatigue problem is.”

“Yes,” she agreed in a barely audible whisper.

“Hey! I love you,” he reminded her. “Call me when you’re done with your appointment.”

With that, he hung up the phone, cognizant of the sounds of boisterous conversation among the harried executives whose footsteps were rapidly approaching the conference room at the end of the hallway.

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn!

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

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

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