The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Four, Part Three – Lacy

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Four, Part Three – Lacy

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“We often think of the future as a blank slate that we have all the time in the world to watch unfold, as if it came with a guarantee of delivery.  Yet the truth is that we have only this one moment in time given to us, and each moment afterwards as God wills us to have. While we make plans for dreams and goals for the time ahead of us, it is in these precious moments of the present when we must work to make our dreams one day come true.  For while we may plan ahead for a lifetime of dreams and desires, it is in this day that our work will build a foundation upon which our dreams may one day stand.

It is this work we do in this very moment and hour from which dreams are made, when foundations are poured and bricks are laid one by one, course by course and wall by wall.  As if creating a film one frame at a time, we build a bridge through these moments that are given to us – one following the next – so in looking back they play in fast motion a movie of how our dreams really came true…one moment, one task, one effort, one job and one day at a time.  We know both intrinsically and experientially that dreams really do come true.

It’s when we see the task ahead of us and roll up our sleeves to work on it in each moment of time that’s available to create them, that they grow out of the ground like a magical beanstalk – reaching to the heavens – connecting our vision of our dream in the clouds from the very beginning with terra firma.  Our efforts over time connects the two together from the ground up – the vision with the reality – from the bedrock of the foundation we pour to support our dreams upon to the grand vision of our dream as it appears in the clouds.  Only when our vision stands before us as our reality – from the sweat of our brow and the efforts of our own hands one moment at a time – can we truly say that our dream’s come true…”  – Mark D. Jones

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The events of the past thirty-two hours were still swirling in Lacy’s mind, her head spinning and her world tumbling as if it were a boulder crashing down from Wheeler Mountain in the east.  Nothing is as it once was, plans dashed and dreams vanished, as if merely low-lying mists retreating from the morning sun.  All that had been her life was now turned upside down, and she knew everything would be different now.

Lacy tried to put together in her mind the events that changed her world forever, wishing they had never been.  If she had only not insisted as a young girl that she would someday run the Double Bar, perhaps it wouldn’t have been destined to come true – but not now and not on these terms.  If only her imagination had not dreamed for her to be in charge, if there was some way she could rewind and erase all that has come to be so it could have been different from how it was now.  For this wasn’t the dream she had dreamed, not here, not now, not this way…

Viewed in slow-motion, her thoughts replayed the tragic events of last night within her mind’s eye.  Matt had just talked with her parents on the phone after dinner, and then Josh decided to drive to Sam Turner’s place to purchase another twenty head of cattle for the ranch.  Sam said it could wait until morning, but Josh insisted that a deal’s a deal and a man’s word was his bond, and insisted in paying cash for the cattle before they were delivered as they agreed on over the phone.  His word was everything to Josh…everything.

Judy didn’t want Josh to travel at night on the highway by himself, so she insisted on going with him – for her duty was always to be at her husband’s side – that was the way she was and always wanted to be. She was true to her last heartbeat.  Lacy’s parents were the salt of the earth, as true as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  As true as spring follows winter and leads into summer, only to be followed by autumn and then winter.  It was who they were their entire lives.

On a dark highway on the way towards Bozeman, everything changed. Oh, Lacy’s parents didn’t change at all, but a drunk driver from up the road changed everything…forever.  Josh’s pick-up truck wasn’t enough to save them, and Lacy could only cry out to God as to why He hadn’t saved them Himself.  Her parents were everything to her. They were her world…which now lay shattered like glass on the ground before her, like Josh’s pick-up truck that was taken away from beside the roadway after the collision.  It didn’t have to happen, tragedies are never asked for, but arrive on their own timeline when least expected.

Everything was different now…everything.  Her beautiful parents were no longer there.  Funeral plans needed to be made.  Matt and Linda were flying into Billings in the morning.  Matt had offered to run the Double Bar but Lacy insisted he needed to stay true to his dreams – she was now 18 and it was her duty to run the Double Bar to honor her parents.  Her father’s words echoed in her mind, “Someday, when I’m six feet under and only a photograph on the wall, I want you to always remember that this old bull was reasonable in the end and has always loved you from the very day you were conceived.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not now…tears streamed down Lacy’s cheeks as she hugged her pillow tightly and buried her face in its depths, a flood that could no long remain bottled up.  Between her sobbing and gaspings for breath, between her flowing tears and soaked pillowcase, somewhere deep inside her a resiliency and resolve bubbled up, a determination to do what needed to be done. Eventually her tears dried up and the sun rose on the second day – a day she determined that she would cry no more, for there was work to be done – it’s what her parents would have wanted and expected for her to do.

The Double Bar was all her parents lived for, it was the Conway tradition going all the way back to 1872 – and it was hers to continue on.  There would be no more tears, no more pity, no more woe’s me, no more about life not being fair.  Lacy knew it was time to get on with life, to roll up her sleeves and run the Double Bar like her parents would have wanted her to do – for them, for the Double Bar – for their patriarch Jeb Conway.  Lacy was a Conway through and through, and this was now her and Matt’s land, but it was her calling to run the Double Bar.  It wasn’t meant to be, but it was – no more tears and no excuses – what was, simply is no more.  What’s now is her new reality, and all there is and ever will be.  Life continues on full-circle, but memories live on forever.  She would hold up and be true to the memories of her parents if it was the last thing she ever did, after all – it was the Conway tradition – and Lacy was a Conway, through and through…                

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The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Four, Part Two – Daisy & Heather

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Four, Part Two – Daisy & Heather

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“As a rose blooms gradually over minutes, hours and days to reach its full beauty and fragrance, so we also evolve and change in ways that awaken us to a new life we could have never dreamed of, or even imagined, before.  A life full of promise and richness beyond measure, the picture of beauty, grace and elegance –  a reflection of becoming who we were meant to be and living the lives we were meant to live. This blooming of our full potential to achieve our peak fragrance achieves in us an essence of life that was always meant to be, but hung in the balance between what had been previously achieved and all that was possible in our future.  For potential is like a rosebud that has yet to bloom, or like immature fruit that’s still green and vulnerable – needing more time and the sun’s warmth to grow, mature and ripen.  Our lives are always evolving and maturing as time steadily ticks away, and the question lingers as to whether we will get the opportunity to bloom into the fullness of our potential, while time yet remains to enjoy the sweet aroma of our maturity.  For our calling is to nourish the soil of our hearts and nurture the tender, fresh growth of each new day, so as to avoid the cold spells and the storms of life that might cause us to never reach the springtime of our maturity.  Only then, can we stroll through the garden of our lives in the knowledge and enjoyment of a life brought to peak flavor and maturity – a life well lived and well loved – a fragrance that’s pleasing to all the senses, both ours, and to those who share the sunshine, soil and air in the garden beside us…”  – Mark D. Jones

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“Ms. Daisy Huntington, I presume?”

“Why yes, of course it is, Arthur!  It’s so nice to make your acquaintance again after four long years!  I’m thrilled to finally be home!”

“You are indeed, Ms. Daisy – welcome home – we’re so glad you’re here to stay, my dear!”

“You don’t know the half of it, Arthur…touching down at Heathrow and passing through Customs was like having finally arrived at the destination my heart has so longed to reach.  Tell me, how is Heather?  I can’t begin to thank her for her invitation for me to live with her in Honeysuckle Cottage, and rekindle my art career on the banks of the River Windrush – it’s simply a dream for me and one I pray I will never awaken from!”

“Ms. Heather is as you’ve always know her to be, Ms. Daisy – full of a thousand different ideas for each and every new day – fully engaged in her social calendar, gardening, decorating and charity events.  In fact, she’s making plans for her Summer Garden Party in just over a month’s time in July – the fourth actually – as a coming out party for her dear friend from across the pond who has finally returned home again!”

“Oh, Arthur, I can’t wait to see the Victorian Garden House beside the River Windrush and all the beautiful light that I’ll have for painting! You can’t believe how my spirit yearns to paint again after having lain dormant for more than 23 years!  How long is the drive to Lower Windrush Hamlet going to take us, Arthur?  I can’t wait to turn into Cobblestone Way and see Heather and her beautiful Honeysuckle Cottage!”

“Normally, it would take us just under two hours once we begin the drive, but in our case we’ll be making a stop in the City first.  May I please carry your bag to the car, Ms. Daisy?  It’s parked right through the doors in the reserved loading zone.  We will first be stopping by Harrods for a few necessities.  I do believe you’ll enjoy the experience.”

“Harrods?  Oh, Arthur, I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven!  What little necessities do we possible need at Harrods prior to driving to the cottage?”

“Ms. Heather has arranged for and reserved a proper English summer wardrobe for you at Harrods, my dear.  This shouldn’t take all day, for the staff are awaiting your arrival.  Please, let me get the door for you and allow you to relax in the back seat while I drive you into the City. You do remember London, don’t you my dear?  Mind your dress as I close the door.”

Daisy couldn’t possibly have anticipated that Heather would arrange a summer wardrobe for her, and as Arthur took his seat behind the wheel in his proper driver’s suit, hat and gloves, Daisy just had to ask, “Arthur, how is this to be handled once we arrive at Harrods?  A girl needs to know these details in advance, so as to not be caught unawares.  Has Heather set aside a dress or two for me to try on?”

“Oh, heavens no, my dear Ms. Daisy – you know Ms. Heather much better than that!  She’s set aside an entire summer wardrobe and painting attire for your approval.  All you need to do is see that it meets with your wishes and have the seamstress measure you for having them fitted.  Harrods will take care of all the alterations and have them delivered to the cottage within days.  I believe there are over a hundred different outfits set aside for you to select from.”

“Oh, and by the way, Ms. Heather has redecorated your room in the cottage in your favorite Laura Ashley fabrics and colors for you and created an entire closet out of another bedroom for your wardrobe to be kept in.  The Victorian Garden House has been remodeled as your painting studio and supplied with everything you’ll need to begin painting right away – both oils and watercolors – stocked with all the canvasses, paper and brushes you’ll need.  Ms. Heather had an expert from a London gallery place the order knowing your artistic tastes.  In fact, the gallery has donated the supplies as a welcome home gift to you and eagerly awaits the opportunity to reintroduce you to the London art establishment.  Sir David still prominently displays your painting in his gallery that you gave him as a gift a quarter century ago, during the initial exhibition of your work in London, 23 years ago.  You were so gifted as a young lady in your artistry and it was such a shame you placed your career on hold just as you began making an international name for yourself.”

“Yes, Arthur, the colors of my life have been dormant all these many years, but I hope this occasion will be the spring of a future life that I’ll be able to enjoy for the rest of my days.”

Daisy pondered all these memories in her heart as they crossed the City and arrived in front of Harrods.  The staff at Harrods were expecting her and whisked her upstairs to a private viewing room where she selected an entire summer wardrobe of sundresses, evening dresses, loungewear, gardening and painting clothes, hats, purses, shoes and so much more – causing her head to swoon from all the colorful florals, prints, pastels, fine leather shoes and purses, hats and accessories.  After taking her measurements and recording her style preferences for the seamstresses, Daisy was escorted by the staff back to meet Arthur at the car in an example of classic English efficiency.

As Arthur chauffeured her across the splendid green countryside towards Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Windrush Hamlet, Daisy’s heart couldn’t contain all the pleasure that was bursting within it.  Her pulse quickened in unbridled anticipation as they drew ever nearer to their destination.  Only a short time ago her life had hit rock bottom, a deep depression and dark void that she’d never wanted to happen – yet somehow, beyond all her hopes and dreams, a new life was emerging – as if she was now a beautiful butterfly emerging from the winter of her cocoon, into the sunshine of a new day.

Daisy’s heart leapt as Arthur turned off the Oxford Road at Burford and paralleled the River Windrush into Little Barrington.  The landscape spoke to her heart as never before, welcoming her back to her beloved Cotswolds.  They crossed the stone bridge over the River Windrush into Great Barrington and then turned onto the single track lane lined with hedgerows alongside the river, passing House Copse, Horseclose Copse, Asp Copse, Mill Copse, Blackington Copse, Chessel Wood and on towards Bridge Wood.  Her eyes were delighted by the Council’s decision to return much of the River Windrush’s banks to a natural greenbelt, leaving only the single track lane as primarily a picturesque bridal path alongside the river.

As they passed alongside Bridge Wood, they entered Meadow View Lane from the south as it ran along the east side of the River Windrush – the opposite end from where it began at the intersection with Bridge Street running between Clapton-on-the-Hill and Leasow Lane going into Great Rissington.  A row of picturesque, thatched roof cottages lined the lane and the Lower Windrush Pub stood at the far end of the lane where Bridge Street crossed over a charming little stone bridge over the River Windrush.  In the middle of Meadow View Lane both Windrush Place and Climbing Rose Lane created picturesque and inviting little lanes towards the east, while Cobblestone Way veered by itself to the west beside the River Windrush to its only residence – Honeysuckle Cottage.

It was then that Daisy’s breath was taken completely away with her first glimpse of Heather’s cottage in over four long years.  The Victorian Garden House sat like a multifaceted, glass gem down alongside the river, and the cottage garden and stone walls created such an inviting sight for sore eyes that Daisy’s heart had been so longing to see!  There, situated in the midst of the most beautiful and idyllic grounds within its cottage garden, sat Honeysuckle Cottage! Its intricately thatched roof of so many cute and delightful ornate details was displayed in full sun, and the cottage’s weathered stone walls and white plaster finish were framed in delicately beautiful, pink honeysuckle blooms trained along trellises and wires to create the most idyllic setting that her heart could have ever imagined!  There standing in the open cottage doorway was Heather herself, holding a basket of fresh flowers she had only just clipped for the table – joyfully waving in greeting as Arthur drove Ms. Daisy into the pea gravel drive – for she was at long last home…

“Welcome home, Ms. Daisy!” said Arthur “You’ve finally arrived…”

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Four, Part One – Meghan & Steve

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Four, Part One – Meghan & Steve

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“Opportunities are gifts and blessings that often come into our lives with little warning, altering the very fabric of our life’s experience.  A tapestry of great beauty and color brought into our lives to replace the well-worn carpet underfoot – opportunities create a rich, new life of wondrous experiences and inspiring challenges to immerse ourselves in – like taking the first dive of summer into the cherished lake of our childhood memories at the cottage.  Treasured memories of enchanted days and summer joys now long past, flood back into the forefront of our awareness.  Forming like the bubbles surrounding us on that first plunge of summer, these cherished memories fondly arise out of a childhood now long past.

For, opportunities are like bridges carrying us directly into our future – taking us from where we are now, to where we want to be – the land of our hopes and dreams.  Unformed and as yet unknowable, our dreams appear at first as mists rising in the early morning sunshine from dew covered fields of wildflowers, beckoning us on ever closer to come and explore.  The potential of fulfilling our dreams captivates and fuels our imaginations, like pure oxygen refreshing our souls – awakening us to all the possibilities that may await us.  Opportunities that come into our lives may not prove to be the perfect solution for fulfilling our heart’s desires, but merely another path in the course of our journeys. For this is the story of our lives, and of our hopes and dreams – a slowly unfolding and evolving process on the way to discovering who we are, who we want to be, and all that the future holds waiting for us…”  – Mark D. Jones      

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“Steve – I couldn’t wait to see you!  I’ve got good news!”

“What is it, Meghan?  I just finished the teleconference, I’ve got news of my own…go ahead, yours first.”

“My mother called, she’s reconsidered.  She told me to follow my heart and live the life of my dreams!  Can you believe that, Steve?”

“Sally said that, Meg?  What a revelation!  How did that happen?”

“She talked to, Daisy, her BFF from back in her TriDelt days.  Daisy’s gone through a divorce and is off to the Cotswolds to rekindle her art career that she put on hold for her ex – what a mistake – but that’s another story.  Mom said to go wherever the wind blows us and never look back – my Mom said that!  She was so against us getting married only earlier this week, I can’t believe it…what a change!  I’m so happy, Steve – now our future can begin with a clean, fresh slate!”

“Well, what did you tell her?”

“I told her that Father John has made all the arrangements to marry us in a quiet little ceremony in the little chapel on Wrightfield’s auxillary campus – the one used for retreats.  It’s on a beautiful hilltop location overlooking the lake, surrounded by meadows and woodlands.  I think it only holds a handful of people at most.  I told her that instead of eloping, we’ll have a quiet little ceremony with only the priest and two official witnesses – Matt and Linda.  She even said to skip the graduation ceremony and fly directly to San Diego to begin our new lives in Jackie’s condo!”

“Aren’t your parents coming to graduation, Meg?”

“No, David’s on tour with his band in New England and can’t get away. Sally’s making plans to fly to the Cotswolds to spend time with Daisy and Heather.  She told me not to live a life of regrets, and to live my life with as much enthusiasm and energy as I did as a little girl – I was unstoppable back then…”

“And you’ll be unstoppable now as Mrs. Steven Thomas Andrews, Meg! My news is in two parts.  First, my parents aren’t coming to graduation either, which makes everything easier for us.  They’ve got a busy social calendar back home, and I think they’d rather mix and mingle with the movers and shakers in Minneapolis, than fly out to a wedding they don’t support.  The only way I’d ever make them happy would be to go to grad school and become a hedge fund manager in New York City. Anything short of that would be failure in their eyes.”

“Don’t they know about your heart?  About your passion for helping the homeless?  What about your internet venture – do they know about that?”

“Only that I dabble in doing research, that’s about all.  They’re not really interested in my desires for life, and no, they have no idea about my passion for helping the homeless…”

“That’s really unbelievable, Steve – or maybe it’s really not.  People seem to have a penchant for telling other people how they should live their lives, when it’s really none of their business.  I’m so surprised that my mother changed her mind so quickly.  It probably has to do with the decisions she made at my age.  I hope to be able to talk to her more about what changed her mind – but I’m so glad she did! Didn’t you say something about having completed your teleconference?”

“Oh, yes – right.  Chris Williams and Andy Johnson arranged today’s teleconference with our internet venture’s investor group and sponsors. The gist of the call was to announce that the investor group has decided to buy the startup outright and partner with our sponsors in fielding online schools from coast to coast – taking it to the next level.  I agreed to their offer and told them that I was now looking to pursue new opportunities after graduation, especially now that we’re getting married.”

“What opportunities, Steve – your research on homelessness in America for your book?”

“Sort of, Meg.  Chris told me just before the call that Melissa would like me to integrate my ideas for helping the homeless into her Hope For Women and Children Campaign once we arrive in San Diego.  It’s part of The Women and Children’s Society of Greater San Diego – a non-profit focused on helping single women with children.  I’ll be able to implement my ideas for setting up a one-stop-shopping network for bringing all the services the women and children may need directly to them.  Housing, food, health care services, clothing, schools, job training, jobs, you name it.  It’s the perfect opportunity for me.  I’ll research my book on homelessness in America, while at the same time implementing specific programs that are designed to help the women and children of San Diego County.  If it all works out, I’d like to expand this same approach to providing needed services coast-to-coast – and possibly internationally. People shouldn’t have to struggle just to survive in the 21st Century in America, or in any other country.”

“How will you implement these programs, Steve?  We don’t even have jobs yet…”

“Oh, I forget to mention one thing, Meg.  The investor group and sponsors have agreed to our terms.”

“What terms, Steve?”

“750 Million dollars…”

“750, what?”

“The investor group bought out our startup.  Chris has pledged his half of the proceeds to fund my homeless initiative with Melissa, and wants me to use my portion as seed money for all the other creative ideas I’m working on…”

“I’m floored, Steve?  Why didn’t I know anything about all of this before?”

“The teleconference only wrapped up 20 minutes ago, and there was no need to worry you about things if they didn’t end up turning out. Besides, I want you to always know that I love you just as you are, and for you to love me just as I am whether I’m successful or a failure – to have and to hold, in good times and in bad, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part…”

Meghan’s head was swimming and her heart was overflowing with emotion – for here was her heart’s desire – standing before her very eyes!  A treasure that no amount of money could ever purchase and the love she had been waiting for her entire life!  She threw her arms around Steve as tightly as she could ever possibly hold him, kissing him as if tomorrow would never come.  Two hearts beating together as one, embracing as if this was the only moment that ever mattered. This very moment was hers to remember, for eternity…”

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part Seven – Steve & Sarah, James & Barbara

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

(Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part Seven – Steve & Sarah, James & Barbara

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“Imagine a lifetime of loving unconditionally without limits or boundaries – loving unabashedly in full measure without embarrassment or hesitation – as if love was the only thing that mattered in our lives.  For love itself knows no boundaries or limitations, yet our hearts often impose them in an act that goes against the very reason that love exists, making decisions as to when, where and who to love.  Love is a vapor and a spirit independent of our world, an eternal gift bestowed to us without conditions or limitations and freely offered to us in endless supply. Yet, love is subject to our direction when nurtured within our hearts and often treated as if it were limited in supply or exclusive in its availability.  Yet we know that love is endlessly available whenever we choose to extend it, as our hearts are connected to the Author of Hearts from which love flows.

For when we choose to reserve our love for but a select few, we have selfishly limited the supply of love that we have to offer – as if the object of our love somehow needs to be worthy before we release it to them.  Yet any pre-selection concerning love is directly contrary to love’s eternal nature, flowing unconditionally from the Author of Hearts to ours without pretense or pre-selection.  For God first loved us unconditionally from the beginning of time, yet we so often pick and choose the hearts we extend our love to – even withholding our love from the One from which it flows.

For love isn’t meant for a select few, it’s purpose is to be given away as freely as it has been given to our own hearts.  If we were to travel the world and love every single heart and soul as deeply and completely as we’re able to…the love provided to our hearts from God would never run short or be exhausted.  For in God the impossible is routine and the only limitations placed upon the love freely given to us – are the ones of our own choosing…”  – Mark D. Jones

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“Hello, Sally?  It’s Sarah – how are you dear?”

“Why Sarah, how sweet of you to call!  How’s the high-tech, corporate world treating you and Steve?”

“That’s why I called, Sally.  I need to talk to you about the new direction our lives are heading.  I can’t trust my own heart to tell me the truth – I need you to be an honest broker and tell me if I’m making a mistake…”

“Gladly, Sarah – I’d never tell you anything but truth, you know me. The last time we talked, Steve was interviewing to be the Executive Vice President for IET – did he get the position?”

“He did and a lot more, that’s my dilemma.  I don’t know whether to happy or sad with the new developments…it’s all happening much too quickly.  My head’s spinning from it all and I’m leaving tomorrow for Tuscany and our villa in Pienza.  I’ll return in two weeks and by then Steve will already be in France and then I’ll need to make arrangements to join him.  It’s all too much at the moment, Sally!”

“Alright, calm down, girl – take a deep breath and relax, Sarah.  Let’s start at the beginning, you have to walk me through the details.  This is the first time I’m hearing any of this and inquiring minds want to know before I can offer any advice!”

“Okay, here goes.  There are a lot of details and moving parts and pieces to this story, so bear with me.  Steve accepted IET’s offer from the board yesterday and has the position of Executive V.P. for 7.5M per year plus options and benefits.  He’ll assume the position of President and CEO once Mr. Thompson retires in ten years.”

“So far so good, Sarah – I don’t see any problems so far.  It’s a pretty sweet deal!”

“It is, Sally – and I was given a salary as well – $200,000 per year, plus allowances.”

“That’s even sweeter, Sarah!  Where can I sign up?  It looks good so far!”

“Here’s where the waters get muddy, Sally.  Steve was supposed to head the desalination project for the Bay Area, but the technology matured more quickly than anticipated and is already being adopted, so they changed his focus.  He’s going to head up IET’s new European Operations Division.  He’ll start overseeing a project for the French Government to install a wind farm in the Dordogne region of the Aquitaine, in southwest France – east of Bordeaux.  Later he’ll set up IET’s offices in Paris.  That’s why they’ve given me a salary, too, because I’ll be representing IET as well overseas.  There are a lot of social commitments and relationships to foster – the fact that we both speak French was instrumental to Steve being hired in the first place.”

“Wow, Sarah – it sounds like a dream!  You love overseas travel, so what’s not to love in this deal?”

“It gets sticky, Sally.  Mr. Thompson’s wife, Barbara, is heavily involved in the entire operation and has taken a very keen interest in Steve – she’s the real force behind his hiring, actually.  She’s inherited her family’s historic Château and estate in Sarlat-la-Canéda, near where the wind farm will be constructed.  Barbara’s providing temporary office space for IET’s use in her Château until it’s time to set up the corporate office in Paris.  Steve and I will live in a historic, renovated guest house on the estate grounds where her family breeds purebred Arabian horses that are highly prized and sought out from around the world.”

“I have to sit down and catch my breath, Sarah, unbelievable!  You’ll be living a dream life – can I come along?  What are you worried about – Barbara?”

“Yes, exactly.  This is all a little too close to home.  Steve’ll be working very closely with Barbara and you know how he loves beautiful and exotic women – and all things European – and Arabian horses.  It’s all too perfect.  I’m afraid I’ll loose him to her…then where will I be?  I don’t know what to do.  Is it worth the chance?  I need to know, Sally!”

“It all comes into focus now, Sarah.  You’re worried about the dream going poof and being left with nothing, while Steve keeps living the dream forever – am I right?”

“Yes, Sally…I love the opportunity and the dream of it all…but I’m scared that it will become a nightmare for me.  It’s all just too perfect…”

“I know that Steve loves beautiful women, Sarah – what man doesn’t?  I also know he loves all things Old World and luxurious – he has a fine eye for all the details – but has he ever strayed during your marriage, Sarah?”

“No, Steve hasn’t strayed – distracted yes, but strayed – no.”

“That’s the same for all men, Sarah – they go all wobbly over a pretty skirt, but eventually come to their senses.  I see where you’re coming from with the Château, Arabians and Barbara’s exotic beauty…I bet she has a beautiful French accent, too…”

“She does…”

“Okay, Sarah.  Sit down and take a deep breath – here’s my advice. Life’s for living right?”

“Right…”

“And life should be full of dreams and adventures, right?”

“Yes, of course…”

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for you both and a dream come true – am I right?”

“Well, yes – on face value…”

“Steve’s never strayed, has he?”

“No….a little wobbly perhaps, but never strayed…”

“Here’s my advice.  Men never think with their brains if you know what I mean, Sarah.  If you’re going to lose him one day, it won’t take an exotic European lifestyle to tempt him – any little floozy will do.  The fact that he’s never strayed over all these years speaks highly of his character.  Follow your heart and live your dreams, Sarah – set aside your fears.  You can’t keep Steve if he doesn’t want to stay.  Only he can make that decision.  Just make sure that your actions don’t contribute to his making the decision to leave you.  My guess is you have nothing to worry about and everything to gain, Sarah – and who knows – perhaps this dream will turn out even lovelier than your heart could ever hope for…”

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part Six – David, Susan & Jeff

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part Six – David, Susan & Jeff

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“Our lives open before us on a dimmed stage bathed in the soft glow of candlelight.  Light and shadows flicker and dance around us from the illumination of a single flame, held fast in an antique candlestick holder covered in the drippings of countless candles from ages past. A single, leather-bound volume awaits our review under the dim light of the candlestick’s steady resolve atop an ancient oak table, aged and worn from endless use.  This massive book bound in exquisite leather, now yellowed and frayed from its timeless beginning, conceals within its parchments a lifetime of heartbeats – reserved only for these occasions to provide rare glimpses and opportunities for insight and understanding. Taken delicately and tenderly down from a seemingly endless collection of such volumes, amid rows and columns of library shelves illuminated by sconces, these ancient volumes and the text they hold within them are reserved only for angel’s eyes and those personally invited to read the accounts of their lives – written from before the beginning of time itself.

These volumes – prepared for our hearts as a gift of grace and love by the Author of our existence – were prepared and preserved for us ages before the first, faint beats of our hearts became a reality.  The thread of our existence, tenderly contained within these ageless pages, is revealed to us now amid this rare occasion for the benefit and enlightenment of our souls.  For this is an invitation for edification – to understand the wisdom of the course that has thus far been the story of our lives – a journey to fulfill our heart’s desires and with it the culmination of our existence.

Foretold in these leather-bound volumes are the twists and turns of the life contained within us, revealed to us on this occasion in hindsight, where insight and understanding aims to provide knowledge and wisdom from the lessons of our past.  As our examination approaches the present age, year, hour, minute and second, the text begins to fade from our understanding into angelic prose – beautifully embossed and sung from each individual page by angelic choirs – masked and withheld from our understanding prior to the appointed hour having finally arrived.  For the Author of our existence has prepared for us an opportunity to experience a lifetime of love within His Creation.  A journey not measured in time but understanding, not directed, but known in advance by the One who molded our hearts and placed them within the form and substance that defines us by name.  For this is a journey of love, reflected in everything we are – yet love is the only timeless aspect of our lives that remains in the world – for once expressed and given away…it is our love that carries on forever.”  – Mark D. Jones

~~~~~~~~~~

Her imagination racing before her, Susan drove a meandering route through southern Bavaria into Austria, following a scenic route along the Romantische Straße into southern Bavaria.  Stopping along the way to visit Wieskirche, Oberammergau, the Ettal Monastery, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Zugstitze, the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein and Füssen prior to crossing the border into Austria, Susan wanted to let her imagination have all the time it needed to dream of this future life that was awaiting her discovery.  She needed a prelude and introduction to this new life of hopes and dreams, wishes and whimsy that she so desired, and found it while driving down winding roads and through the quaint and picturesque landscapes that are Bavaria and Tirol.  Susan was already making the proper introductions to this house that her imagination desired, allowing her to savor this new beginning and letting it unfold slowly and tenderly in her mind – long before a proper introduction could possibly be made. Yet, she longed to share this moment beyond her heart, to one who could relish it for what it was – the culmination of a lifetime of her dreams and desires.

Susan already had a vision of her future life from the three Polaroid snapshots of Alpen Haus she received from Jeff at the reading of the will, now resting on the seat beside her.  With every pause and opportunity her eyes would linger on them, tenderly piecing together the vision and dream she was weaving around them in her mind.  In the center console of her Mercedes-Benz lay the treasure of her heart, quietly resting in the center tray where she could reach out and touch this antique key that was destined to unlock her heart – as if taken directly out of some Medieval fairy tale.  She was a princess destined to unlock the castle of her hopes and dreams – a real-life time capsule from 1727, resting virtually untouched since 1921, when its owners left home for the very last time.

The house had remained shuttered and silent ever since, awaiting the return of its rightful owner – watched over and protected from harm by the villagers of  Going on Wilden Kaiser for all these years – a monument of sorts to their combined sadness and grief, of having lost a family within their community they so dearly loved.  Ever since Herr Bachmeier was a child in the years following WWII, he had taken this house to his heart – treasuring it and securing the key that now accompanied Susan in her Mercedes-Benz…winding its way home to the house he had so loved and cared for over all these beloved years. It was his enduring hope that the house would become a home again, breathed into life by a loving family, but alas its ownership had come to Bill Schmitz in the waning twilight of his years, too late for Herr Bachmeier’s dreams of its rebirth and renewal.  His heart, even now, was reaching out to Susan as she made her way home – to the future she’d always wanted to have, but never dared hope for – longing for her to finally be the one to rekindle the home’s light and love, and with it, a future filled with her hopes and dreams.

Lost in her thoughts as she drove through the glorious Austrian State of Tirol – from Innsbruck to Wörgl to St. Johann north of Kitzbühel – she marveled at the pristine beauty of the Alps and the splendor and crisp freshness of the Alpine air her heart so dearly loved.  It was early May in Tirol, a time when picturesque mountain peaks draped in brilliant white spawned raging streams of crystalline clear, aqua-pure waters that filled valley rivers below.  Spring had returned once again to the Tirolean valleys, clothing them in vibrant greens while the first flowers of spring dared the frost to challenge the riot of color they brought to Alpine fields and quaint villages alike in this mountain paradise.

Why couldn’t David pause for a few days from his relentless pursuit of the Partnership he was so determined to achieve and join her in this awakening within her that was now defining her future?  What is life if not sipped, savored, breathed in and relished in the full measure and portion that was now prepared for them both?  A banquet of joy and fulfillment that completed the long, arduous journey that had been their challenge since graduating from Harvard together in 1991. Was there to be no silver lining at all to be enjoyed as the fruit of their life’s efforts together? Susan felt the heaviness and sadness of such a missed opportunity weighing on her heart, at the very moment that was destined to be the culmination of her personal dreams and aspirations – an emptiness, as if a wound that had never healed inside her – remaining forever as a reminder that her life was not yet fully complete.

Thoughts of fulfilling her life’s dreams carried Susan full-circle, from this adventure of discovery her heart was now racing towards, to probing her innermost desires of longing to share it with someone who could fully appreciate and engage in it as a partner of equal vision.  Jeff was the only person she knew that was sensitive to both her heart and to her vision of transformation that they both passionately loved.  To refresh and recreate a landscape anew, painting it for the fist time with a full palette and rainbow of watercolors, was a journey their hearts so loved to travel.  Her artistry was composed of stone, timber, antiques, cottage gardens, annuals and perennials, grass, manicured hedges and flowering trees – but Susan now wanted to direct and orchestrate her personal vision and heart’s desires – and savor the fulfillment of her life’s achievements.  Was it wrong to desire to share it with someone who would complement the vision that was even now unfolding itself before her very eyes?  Would she ever explore the tender feelings that were now growing within her, ripe for discovery by the one who understands and believes in her heart’s desires?

Susan drove into the village of Ellmau, just short of her destination of Going an Wilden Kaiser in Tirol, to spend the night – unwilling to introduce herself to her future in the late afternoon when she knew it would be a short-lived moment as the Alpine shadows closed in around her.  At daybreak she would acquaint herself with her new future, properly saying hello in a welcoming and unhurried manner fitting for such a moment as this was most certainly to be.  Pulling into the AktivHotel Hochfilzer in Ellmau, she checked into the lovely, welcoming 4-Star sport-hotel in the heart of the Kaisertal valley of Tirol.  Checking into her room that looked north towards the majestic Wilder Kaiser mountain range, Susan needed to share this moment with someone – someone who could understand the vision of her heart’s desires.

“Hello, Susan?”

“Jeff, how wonderful to reach you in this moment!  I’m spending the night in Ellmau, Austria, just down the street from Going an Wilden Kaiser.  In the morning, I’ll introduce myself to my new home and to a new beginning – and to the fulfillment of my dreams!”

“Susan, my dearest Susan…are you sitting down?  Please sit down for a moment and listen very carefully.  We’ve all been trying to contact you for the past few hours – David’s had a heart attack.  He’s been in New York this week completing the funding portion of the historic Williams District project here in downtown Charleston.  He collapsed this morning at his hotel and they rushed him to the hospital…Susan, David’s died.  I’m so sorry.  So very sorry for you…”

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part Five – Chris & Melissa

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part Five – Chris & Melissa

~~~~~~~~~~

“Hearts separated by time and space without answers, love letters never written, feelings never shared or exchanged, questions never answered, lives never fulfilled and destinies never consummated – such are the questions of our lives in the quest to know the seemingly unknowable and bring understanding to aching hearts. The complexities of life and love can overwhelm our understanding when facing an unresolved future left hopelessly dangling in the wind. Seemingly cast off and adrift in an ocean surrounding our existence, we’re reminded daily of our heart’s season of sorrow and discontent. Even in the depths of our darkest nights, dawn approaches – revealing the first glimmer and glow of hope and light to pierce through our darkness.  The arrival of a new dawn and a new day fills the void within us with sunshine, casts away the shadows of our fears, brings warmth to the chill of our despair, awakens passion within our hearts, thaws the paralysis of our inaction and energizes our capacity to once again experience joy in our lives.  For light shatters the ominous silence of darkness with the gift of sweet songs and breathes new life into awakening souls – bringing with it the spirit, grace and understanding – of how to love again.”  – Mark D. Jones

~~~~~~~~~~

“Hello, Melissa?  It’s Susan calling from Rothenburg, Germany…do you have a minute?”

“Of course I do – anything for you, Susan!”

“I’m about to check out of my hotel and begin driving to Ellmau, Austria, where I’ll spend the night before seeing the house tomorrow. I wanted to tell you, Melissa, how very happy I am that Chris found you after all these years!  It was all I could think of last night – how life takes us full-circle when we least expect it – just as your life has been completely transformed overnight by Chris’ finding you again!”

“So much as changed and my world’s been turned upside down in just the past two days, Susan!  My life’s in Technicolor now!  Can you even believe it, Susan?  After all these years when Chris was lost to me, he found me again!  We talk all the time now – and he sent me roses – can you believe it?  Everything’s changed for me!  I can’t wait to meet him in San Francisco this Friday – I’m so excited!”

“Oh, Melissa – I’m so happy for you!  How was he after all these years…I need details!”

“He sounds great – just the same as before – if you can believe it! His photo’s on the bio he attached to his email – you know neither one of us are getting any younger, but he’s aged beautifully – fit and trim with a splash of gray in his hair.  I can’t believe my good fortune, Susan…after all these years!  He’s a successful business consultant and lives in a contemporary home overlooking downtown, the mountains and Puget Sound from Queen Anne Hill in Seattle – he’s done quite well for himself.”

“Are you sure he’s not in a relationship now?  You never know these days, Melissa.”

“Nancy, his wife of 38 years passed away from cancer a few years ago…he’s been single ever since.  Chris is a very sweet man, Susan – I’m so, very lucky he found me again!”

“I won’t be home in Charleston before your date with Chris on Friday, so be sure to call me if you need me.  Just be careful and please take care of yourself, Melissa – especially if anything isn’t quite right.  Email me all the details of where you’ll be with Chris during your time in San Francisco – after all, you’re my family!  I so want this to work out for you, Melissa!”

“I know, Susan, you’re my sister and the only family I have – along with Sarah, of course!  I’ll be careful, but I’ve waited almost a lifetime to be with Chris again – I can’t wait for Friday – it can’t arrive fast enough!”

“I’m sure it’ll be perfect for you both, Melissa!”

“Oh, and Susan, I’m sure your introduction to the farmhouse tomorrow will be everything your heart’s been dreaming of!  You know, Susan, I wanted to tell you something during your call yesterday and forgot to mention it.  I wanted to mention Jeff and let you know how blessed you are to have him as a friend.  You know how Jeff picked me up at the airport the last time I flew into Charleston to see you and David?”

“Yes, I remember Melissa – David was meeting with the city and I was making a design proposal for a large project that we landed.  If I recall correctly, it was the Henderson account and we landscaped their entire estate along the Charleston Harbor for them – including a new dock and boat launch.  I put my heart and soul into that project – and loved how it turned out!”

“You’re right, I remember you showing me the project drawings after I arrived.  I wanted to tell you about my luncheon with Jeff that day after he picked me up at the airport – he was such a gentleman!  His wife, Mary Ann, had only recently passed away with cancer as you recall and he was overwhelmed with having lost her – how he loved her!”

“I know, Melissa – he waited on her hand and foot for years as her cancer progressively got worse, until she was too weak to fight it anymore.  We were all devastated by her passing.”

“Yes, I think he was still traumatized by the experience.  I didn’t tell you at the time because of David, of course, but Jeff needed someone to lean on emotionally that day – and he opened his heart to me over lunch.”

“He did, Melissa?  What did he say?  You know he’s been such a dear, dear friend to both of us over the years – ever since our time at Harvard.”

“I know, Melissa.  Jeff would follow you to the end of the world and back if you asked him to – he thinks the absolute world of you, dear! He couldn’t help himself and the words just flowed directly from his heart that day.  Without Mary Ann in his life anymore, you’re the dearest friend he has in this world.  He’s completely dedicated to David, too, of course, at the firm – but you’re the one that has his heart.  I wanted you to know how he feels about you and I’m sorry I never told you at the time – but the time just wasn’t right.  Your text the other day about Jeff’s role as the executor of Bill’s estate reminded me of our conversation that day.  You’re everything to him – I wanted you to know that – and I hope you don’t mind my telling you…”

“Bless you, Melissa – that was so sweet of you!  My heart has always known that Jeff was my true soulmate, but I was so taken with David at the time that I never listened to my heart.  David and I married right after graduation and it was a long time before Jeff came to join David at the firm.  Ever since then, David’s only thrown himself into his work despite my pleas to him to relax and enjoy life – but all he can see is the chance to be made a Partner.  He wouldn’t even take the time to make this trip with me to see the farmhouse in Austria and I doubt he’ll ever make the trip, either.  You’re so right, Melissa, this house really is my heart’s desire and I know that Jeff is so happy for me – but what am I to do?  I want Jeff to remain in my life forever, but I’ve never told him exactly how I feel.  I can’t do that to David, as much as my heart wants me to.”

“Life’s never easy is it, Susan?  If we could only listen closer to what our hearts are telling us we’d have a much easier go at things.  I’m just glad that you have a Jeff in your life.  I never did over all these years, but then I suppose I closed off my heart after losing Chris in the beginning.  You can’t imagine how hurt I was at such a young age, Susan.  Chris was the lost sheep that has now been found! We’re both being transformed and given a new lease on life, Susan! Our best days are still ahead of us!”

“I hope your’re right on both our accounts, Melissa!  I must be driving now, my heart can’t wait to drive through Bavaria and Austria, and see the beautiful countryside again!  Bye dear, I hope you and Chris will be so happy together – it’s like a real-life fairy tale – please give my love to Chris!”

“Bye, Susan – I’ll call you soon!  Have a safe trip and let your heart enjoy every minute of it!”

As Susan hung up the phone, she realized that their lives were changing faster than their hearts could keep up with.  Each day was a swirl of new and ever changing events, and they never knew what the next morning would bring.  Melissa was about to become a fairy tale princess with a storybook ending, and her own life was a fulfillment of her heart’s desires – yet she felt there was something missing.  Was it that David was so focused on his work instead of her, or was it unfair of her to even ponder the thought?  Was Jeff the true soulmate she never had in her life? Was Melissa’s joy and happiness in finding Chris again pointing out the discontent she had in her own life?  Susan realized that she couldn’t do anything about the past, but the future was at this point a blank page – and the days ahead would begin to fill in the pages…

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part Four – Melanie & Keith

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part Four – Melanie & Keith 

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“A chance meeting of hearts, in a moment of time unlike any other as seconds tick by without notice – an event long prepared beforehand, now finally arrived.  Prearranged perhaps, but not pre-announced to the players involved in this unscripted and unrehearsed dance of passion and theater.  A long traveled, rose petal path of tender moments, marked by serendipity for the occasion of intersecting paths and the rendezvous of hearts – joining for a moment…or for a lifetime.  How often do such moments occur over the span of a lifetime of heartbeats, yet remain unrecognized by the players – resulting in friendships and soul mates failing to connect and fulfill their promised destinies because of the mundane distractions of the day?

Each moment in time has the potential to change the world because of the choices it represents for the living – and for the future – where every choice leads the world down a different path of scenarios and outcomes. Only in retrospect, does one see the pattern created by billions of hearts making individual choices that set into motion the future of our world. Yet when viewed from afar, a picture of a single event between hearts comes into clear and concise focus – an awkward crossing of arms while reaching for vine-ripened tomatoes in the grocery store, an accidental touch and polite apology leading to a glance between eyes, before recognizing in each other the potential of a lifetime of shared heartbeats.

Considering the possibility of such events happening daily in the lives of everyone around us, why not treat every moment and heartbeat as the opportunity it presents, alert to the blessings and potential that each and every moment may hold for our lives?  For the pulse of the present moment is all we have during the span of a lifetime, as the echoes of recent heartbeats fade away into distant memory – the cycle repeating itself over a lifetime of such moments.  One never knows when the tide of future heartbeats will cease to rise, leaving only the echoes of heartbeats on the distant shoreline of the past – memories of a time when love and passion ebbed and flowed with the vibrancy of life itself.

A lifetime lived in the presence of each and every cherished moment, no matter the length as measured by time, allows us to pause to inhale the scent of perfume, take in the fragrance of a single rose, enjoy the beauty of a sunset, hear laughter carried in the wind, listen to the crispness of leaves underfoot, partake in the exchange of smiles, see the essence of another heart, drink in the depth of a gaze and taste the sweetness, clarity, purity and emotion revealed in the eyes of the one who loves us!”   – Mark D. Jones

(Note: While this quote is similar to the one I used in Chapter Two, Part Four, it was reworked independently and provides a slightly different flavor than the version I drafted before.  This is one of my favorite quotes in this story so far and I was happy to rephrase it – even if it was by accident!)

~~~~~~~~~~

“OK, Melanie, we’re about to find out if this fairy tale ends up in an enchanted castle or under a toad stool, and if it all goes poof on us, I’ll feel like the world’s biggest fool for following you down yet another cobblestone lane of illusions and vanishing dreams – all in the name of friendship!”

The airbridge was full of a steady stream of deplaning passengers after their arrival at San Francisco International Airport, as Melanie and Brenda maneuvered their way through the flow of humanity into the open concourse.  “Well, Brenda, I believe in happy endings and living happily ever after – besides, didn’t Keith arrange for our First Class tickets and use of Virgin America’s Clubhouse VIP lounge?  He said his driver would meet us after deplaning and take us to the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco, so I take his word on that.  So far, he’s delivered – in spades!  Let’s see what other cards he has to play!”

“Please excuse me, ladies – Ms. Melanie Davis and Ms. Brenda Taylor, I presume?” asked a well-dressed man awaiting arriving passengers in the concourse.

“Why yes, this is Ms. Taylor and I’m Ms. Davis” replied Melanie, pleased with the style and manner they were being greeted with.

“Welcome to The City!  My name is Michael and Mr. White sent me to escort you both to Virgin America’s Clubhouse to await your departure to the Mark Hopkins, Hotel InterContinental.  We’ll ride there on the electric cart waiting for us to your right – may I please carry your bags for you?”

“Why certainly, Michael – you’re a perfect gentleman!  Thank you so much for assisting us today on Keith’s behalf.  I’m impressed with his style already and we haven’t yet had the pleasure of making his acquaintance!” replied Brenda, as she quickly turned to give Melanie a wink and a smile as they followed Michael, who was placing their carry-on bags on the electric cart.  From there they rode along to the Virgin America Clubhouse where Michael parked to the side of the entrance.

“Ladies, I’ll escort you into the Clubhouse and ensure you’re well taken care of, prior to leaving to verify the delivery of your checked luggage here to the Clubhouse, and then on through to your connection departing for the Mark Hopkins.  This way please, ladies, and please allow me to hold the door for you both.”  Melanie gave Brenda a quick look and an understated smile as they passed into the Clubhouse to await the next stage of their adventure, as Michael followed behind them and checked their carry-on luggage with the Clubhouse receptionist.

“Ms. Davis and Ms. Taylor, I would like to introduce you to Ms. Veronica Cooper, who will see that your every need is taken care of while relaxing here in the Clubhouse in preparation for your departure to Nob Hill.  You’ll be in very good hands ladies and I’ll oversee the transfer of your checked baggage.  If you need anything at all, Veronica will be more than happy to take care of you.  It was my pleasure to meet you both, and Mr. White is very pleased that you’ve arrived safely in The City and are now part of our family!  Good bye, ladies – Ms. Davis, Ms. Taylor” said Michael as he nodded in turn to both of them.

“Good afternoon, ladies – as Michael said, my name is Veronica, and I’ll be your hostess here in the Clubhouse until your departure.  Will you please allow me to show you the powder room where you can spend a few moments freshening up, prior to enjoying the selection of light appetizers we’ve prepared for you: Almond Strawberry Salad, Teriyaki Salmon, grilled vegetables and your choice from our extensive wine list. Your departure from the Clubhouse is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., 50 minutes from now.  Jeremy will be here after you’ve finished your appetizers to brief you on the next portion of your trip. Meanwhile, please freshen up for a moment while I ensure your food is ready for your enjoyment!”

Melanie replied, “Veronica, you’re the perfect hostess!  We’re enjoying your wonderful hospitality and after we’ve had the opportunity to freshen up, we’d love to sample your menu – it sounds delicious! Thanks so much for thinking of us!”

“Mr. White wouldn’t have it any other way for his invited guests – and please rest assured ladies – he’s very keen to ensure your visit goes smoothly and favorably for you, as his special guests.  I do hope you’ll find that everything here meets with your approval…and if there’s anything at all that you require, please let me know so I can take care of it right away for you.”

With that, Melanie and Brenda entered the powder room to freshen up in the posh accommodations and prepare for what was to be the final leg of their trip to Nob Hill and the Mark Hopkins, where their suite reservations were being held for them by the Concierge at the reception of the Hotel InterContinental.  “We’re being treated like Princesses on a Royal Visit, Melanie! I can’t believe how thoughtful and polite everyone has been to us so far!  Everyone keeps referring to Keith as Mr. White – as if he’s royalty – this is one fairy tale I want to last forever!”

“Don’t let it all go to your head, Brenda, we haven’t even met Keith yet. Don’t jump to any conclusions before we understand the playing field – there’s a lot that we don’t know, and I don’t want to take anything for granted – especially concerning Keith.  He’s bending over backwards to deliver on his promises so far and I want to allow him the opportunity to continue with his plans without making any demands or changes to them – I’m delighted with how beautifully he’s prepared for our arrival…treating us as part of his family, along with Michael and Veronica here.  I’m definitely impressed so far!”

The view during their exquisite lunch overlooking the busy tarmac below presented a theater of activity – of colorful aircraft taxing, service trucks, baggage carts and airline personnel swarming around arriving flights, while departing flights jockeyed into position in a ballet of timing and choreography that would please even the most critical of West End audiences.  They watched as a sleek and ultra modern, blue and white helicopter deftly landed in the circle painted on the tarmac below them, catching their interest and attention with the skill and professionalism displayed by the helicopter’s pilot.

Veronica cleared away their lunch plates and silverware, and poured them both a second glass of wine.  Returning to their table a few minutes later she said, “Ms. Davis and Ms. Taylor, I’d like to introduce you to Jeremy.  Jeremy, this is Ms. Melanie Davis and Ms. Brenda Taylor – guests of Mr. White’s for you to bring to the Mark Hopkins, Hotel InterContinental.  Ms. Davis and Ms. Taylor – Jeremy will be your pilot.”

“Our pilot?  Keith spoke of making arrangements for his driver to bring us to the hotel…I’m confused.”  Melanie was clearly perplexed with this twist in their adventure and didn’t know what to make of this new development.

“Ms. Davis, I’m sorry to have surprised you – Mr. White always refers to me as his driver – it’s just his way of staying grounded.  He doesn’t let his surroundings alter his core values.  He’s the best boss to work for in the whole world and he’ll treat you both with the utmost care and professional courtesy during your entire stay here in The City!  Please, when you’re ready, we’ll prepare to fly to the Hotel InterContinental – it’ll only take a few minutes!”

“Thank you very much, Jeremy – it’s a pleasure to meet you.  I apologize for my reaction, I was caught by surprise – I never expected such royal treatment!”

“It’s my pleasure to serve you both, Ms. Davis and Ms. Taylor – Mr. White only knows one way of treating everyone and doing anything – and that’s First Class.”

Now it was Melanie’s turn to give Brenda a look of surprise and amazement, while pinching Brenda’s arm under the table as if to say they’ve now entered the enchanted pages of a storybook fairy tale…the fairy tale of their dreams!

 

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part Three – Lacy

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part Three – Lacy

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“Sharing our hopes and dreams in honesty and love, opens paths of communication and common ground between lives – allowing us to embrace a shared vision of support and encouragement along the many meandering paths we travel during the course of our lives. Lending a helping hand to others provides hope, encouragement and assistance during trying times, elevating even the most downtrodden of souls.  New beginnings bring refreshment to parched hearts, optimistic landscapes to despairing souls and joyful hope to withering dreams on the vine.  Just as a pure and sparkling spring runs anew after many years of drought, love overflows our hearts when life’s blessings touch and celebrate our souls.  For in love, we have the power to rise again from the ashes of a long ago past and turn a page in the story of our lives, making all things new again.  In love, we discover a future that’s been prepared for us, validating our lives and filling our hearts with joy – for true love is the prize we seek – and nothing but our heart’s desires will do.  For the difficulty of the journey ensures that the fruits of our labors will taste all the sweeter for the effort it took to harvest and enjoy them…”  – Mark D. Jones

~~~~~~~~~~

“Hello, Linda?  Lacy here – how’s everything in Portland?”

“I’m glad you called, Lacy – Matt just walked in the door and wanted to call you as well – he has something he wants to tell you.”

“Sure, Linda…but first, how are you doing these days?  I hope both of you are excited about graduating in a few weeks from Wrightsfield, I know how difficult it’s been for both of you financially over the past four years – are you okay?”

“We’re okay for the moment – I have a local gig at a coffee shop that earns me a little spending money – mainly from tips – but Matt wants to talk to you about the future…I’ll let him tell you more.  Here he is.”

“Hi, Sis!  Let me put you on speaker so Linda can talk, too.  How’s the Double Bar and the family?  Are you excited about beginning at Montana State in the fall?”

“The Double Bar, Mama and Papa and I are all fine…and I can’t wait to get started at MSU!  Papa’s worried about the wolves – in more ways than one – but more on that later.  Linda says you have some news to share and I’ve got some of my own for you, too – yours first.”

“Lacy, my news is in two parts.  First of all, Linda and I are engaged as of last night!  We haven’t set a date yet, but that doesn’t matter to us.  The important thing is that we’re going to build a future together and eventually start a family!  We wanted you to be the first to know!”

“Congratulations, to both of you!  I’m so excited for you, Linda!  Can you imagine me as an aunt someday?”

“You’ll be the best aunt in the world, Lacy!”

“You know I think the world of you, Linda – I’ll love being your sister-in-law!”

“I think the same way about you, Lacy – you’re a sweetheart!”

“Thanks, Linda – right back at you – and as far as I’m concerned, you are my sister – even now!  That’s great news – I’m happy for you both! Are you going to call Mama and Papa with the news, Matt?””

“We’ll call them tonight after dinner when they’ll both be home, but we’re so happy to share the news with you now!  I want it to be a surprise for them tonight.  Lacy, what’s your news?  Didn’t you say you had news of your own?”

“Matt, Papa opened his heart to me yesterday over dinner – Mama was there, too.  I think he’s worried about growing old…he compared himself to the old buck elk he saw on the south range – it reminded him of his own mortality.  He said it wouldn’t survive the next winter before the wolves got it, inferring his years are numbered as well.”

“Papa’s only 65 years old, Lacy – he’s got another 20 years in him at least, as feisty as he is.  I wouldn’t be that worried and he shouldn’t be either.”

“You know, Matt – Papa’s had a hard go of it over the years running the Double Bar.  There’s been a lot of lean years and at times life was a struggle for the entire family…you of all people would know that. You know how Mama and Papa tried for years to have children before we came along.  They’ve had a lot of heartbreak.  I think there’s an issue he hasn’t shared with us yet, but Mama must know.  The point is, he promised me that I would run the Double Bar after graduating from MSU…the old elk convinced him to stand aside and let the next generation run the ranch – that’s both of us – you and me, Matt.”

“But Lacy, you know I only want to focus on my bronze sculptures – I’m not cut out for running the Double Bar, even though I love it dearly – my heart’s not into it.”

“I know, Matt – and Papa does, too – he said Mama will always be the posse leader, but just not riding lead…he wants me to be out front and know that Mama’s the one really in charge.  He understands your reasoning to remain in Portland, but would love for you to have your shop set up on the ranch.  He’s concerned about the future of the Double Bar and keeping our family together…I can’t blame him for that.  He wants you to know you’re always welcome home – even if it’s on your terms.  He’s tired now and slowing down, Matt.  I want you to know that whatever happens in the future, you and I will both run the Double Bar someday, even if you’re not there at the ranch. I’ll always consider the fact that we’re a team…in spirit as well as in reality.”

“I would have never believed that dad would just give in to you like that, Lacy – he’s been fighting you over the idea of someday running the ranch for at least 10 years or maybe longer.  You always knew what you wanted in life ever since you were a little girl.  All I want to be is an artist and Linda’s happy with her music…but I don’t want to be tied to the day-to-day operations of the ranch.  My head’s in my art.  I’m not a nuts and bolts kinda guy – I deal in the images and romance of the Wild West – you know that I’m a dreamer at heart. Yesterday, I finished a sculpture of a wolf howling at the moon in wintertime…it’s on display at Wrightsfield now.  My next sculpture is a bison and her calf…I’ve already finished the initial clay model for it.”

Lacy had to pause in her mind and compare Matt’s sculpture of a howling wolf with her father’s story from last night.  It seemed more than a coincidence that Matt chose to cast a lone wolf recently.  She had to think of her papa riding solo on the south range – a solitary figure on Ol’ Reliable, contemplating the reality of his own winter one day.  “Matt, I’d love for you to one day sculpt Papa sitting on Ol’ Reliable and looking out across the south range towards the old bull elk – the elk could be a separate sculpture placed across the room. I would treasure them both forever.  Like I said, Matt, I think Papa’s holding something back – there has to be a reason for his giving up the fight so easily – just like the old bull elk.  I don’t think we’ll have him for much longer…I feel it in my bones.”

“I’d love to cast those sculptures someday, Lacy.  There’s something else, Sis.  Steve, a good friend of mine here at Wrightsfield, is also graduating in a few weeks.  He says there’s money available to help Linda and I with our finances until we can get our feet on the ground. He’s very confident, but can’t fill us in on anything just yet.  Lacy, you know what I’d like?  I’d like to have a bronze casting furnace and store set up on the ranch and still keep my storefront here in Portland’s Arts District.  Linda and I’d run the internet business from Portland and I’d do all the casting work back home.  I couldn’t build a furnace here, at least not yet, but I could do the clay modeling in both locations.”

“I’d love for you to set up a store on the Double Bar, Matt!  Nothing would make me happier than to have you back home – even if you’d still spend a majority of your time in Portland.”

“It’s just an idea of mine for now, you know how I’m such a dreamer. That’s why dad and I never saw eye to eye.  He’s a meat-and-potatoes guy and I’m an artist with my head in the clouds.  I appreciate you keeping me in the loop as far as the Double Bar goes in the future – you’re the best sister I could ever ask for!  One way or another, we’ll sort out the future, after all, one day it’ll just be you and me.  I’ll fill you in once I get any news on possible financing opportunities.  I appreciate your calling us, Lacy – thanks for everything – I’ll call mom and dad tonight after dinner.”

“Don’t worry, Matt, financing or not – we’re in this together! Congratulations again, Linda – welcome to the family!”

“Thanks, Lacy!  That means more to me than you’ll ever know!  Good bye!”

“Good bye – love you both!”

“Love you, too, Sis!”

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part Two – Daisy & Heather

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part Two – Daisy & Heather

~~~~~~~~~~

“New beginnings unfold before us like a fresh, new landscape seen for the first time during the course of a journey.  There’s often little to guide us through this unknown and uncharted territory to destinations we seek and hope to find.  Changes, challenges and opportunities await us around every new corner, where landscapes and lives transition between seasons and hopes blossom anew in the vineyards of our hopes and dreams, still ripening on the vine.  We watch as all the world unfolds before us, horizon to horizon – a garden of opportunity and potential where one day we hope to harvest our dreams and passions – the fruit of our heart’s desires. For in the end, the fruit of our lives is always love, to be given away to the world around us.  For in sharing our love with others, we plant the seeds of love in every heart we care for. It is this journey and pilgrimage through life that we share together – in the vineyard of our hopes and dreams, passions and desires – that we hope will one day bring forth a harvest of love…in overflowing abundance!”  – Mark D. Jones

~~~~~~~~~~

“Hello, Sally?  Daisy here!”

“Where are you now, Daisy?  Don’t tell me your flight to your future in the Cotswolds has been canceled!”

“Sally, dear, I’m crossing the pond, flying first class on Virgin!  After all, I still have thousands of reward miles from the life I’m leaving behind. It’s a beautiful metaphor – the life I’m leaving is the one launching me into my future!  All I have in this world is with me on this flight to my new life with Heather, at Honeysuckle Cottage.  A Yank in the Cotswolds could be the title of the next chapter of my life! It could even be made into a movie! After all, it’s the story of my new life without Tom – and good riddance to him!”

“No, Daisy – the title of your book should be An Artist in the Cotswolds with the subtitle A Yank Rediscovers Her Passion and First Love, in the Beauty of the Windrush Valley.  That’s the story of the rest of your life!”

“So true.  Yes, that’s where my heart’s at rest and where my true nature longs to remain…for the rest of my life!”

“Daisy, I had to think about what you said earlier.  You were right, dear, as you always are.  I must apologize to Meghan for being too distant, for too many years – for her whole life if I’m willing to admit it to myself – and to her.”

“Then you owe it to her to explain all about David, the love of your life that withered on the vine from the excesses of living his dreams through music.  You were only given a minor part to play in the score of his life, due to all the time he spent away from you touring with his band.  It was never what your lives together were meant to be.  It could have been so perfect, had he just taken the time to nourish your heart.  You deserved a happily-ever-after, Sally, but sadly it was never meant to be.”

“Yes, Daisy, and then I made an even worse choice in marrying George when Meghan was still just a child.  He was my rebound, offering Veronica, Meghan and I the security and stability we never had with David.  I wanted us to be taken care of, but in reality we were never cared for emotionally – only financially.  It’s all been a sham really, just a pretense and a facade.  Only my editorial work at the publishing house in The City has been meaningful – and the girls of course – but they probably don’t feel the same about me.  I traded a free-spirited musician who once was the love of my life for security, and the saddest part of all is that I never really loved George – right from the beginning.  It was all a lie I told to my heart, but I thought it was the best for the girls at the time.  They probably hate me for what I did to them.”

“Sally, you didn’t know it at the time.  It might have turned out differently.  You couldn’t have known that George preferred board rooms and hotel rooms over his own bedroom with you.  What a fool he’s been, you were the Tri Delta homecoming queen, fashion model and passionate soul!  You need a makeover for your life, too – perhaps you should title it Life Only Begins After 40!  It would be a best seller!”

“You’re right, Daisy.  I’ll call my lawyer right after I apologize to Meghan and Veronica.  They both have David’s free spirit and I owe it to them to finally come clean about my past, so we can finally build a future together.”

“Don’t forget about Steve, Sally – he deserves better from you, too – and he hasn’t even met you yet!”

“Yes, Daisy, but I may have already poisoned the waters with him. George talked me into a united front after they first said they wanted to talk to both of us.  We suspected something was up with the two of them, why else would they want to speak with both George and I at the same time?  Of course, George was in Manhattan at the time as he always is and I was home in San Jose.  We both insisted marriage was not right for them, especially now if it keeps Meghan from going to grad school and Steve doesn’t even have a job lined up yet, as far as we know.”

“Sally, dear, you sound just like you did when you wanted to marry George for security!  Look where it’s gotten you – the worst mistake of your life!  Meghan’s following in your footsteps and your mother’s footsteps back in the ’60s.  After all, you both went against your parents’ wishes at the time – remember how you felt when you first met David? Wild horses couldn’t have kept you two apart!  Meghan has your DNA…you have to know that.  Meghan and Steve want to get married, something it took you and David years to get around to doing, and only after you were first pregnant with Veronica. Remember calling me for advice then?  You married George for security and not love – that’s exactly the same message you’re sending to Meghan – to postpone love and look for security in a graduate degree!”

“How can I undo the damage I’ve caused both Meghan and Steve, Daisy?”

“Start with the truth, Sally, no matter how painful it is.  If you’re finally honest with the two of them they may respect you for it and forgive you, but first you have to forgive yourself in order for the healing to begin.  Then call your lawyer and discuss your options. You’re not getting any younger and neither am I, we both have full lives to live – and love to give!  Bye now, my dear – things will look better in the morning!”

“Good bye, Daisy – you’re the best friend I could ever have!”

“Right back at you, Sally!  I’ll call you from Heather’s cottage – love you!”

“I love you too, Daisy – say hello to Heather for me!”

“I will, Sally – cheers!”

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel) – Chapter Three, Part One – Meghan & Steve

The Many Portraits of Life (A Novel)

 (Copyright 2009, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)

Chapter Three, Part One – Meghan & Steve

~~~~~~~~~~

“We enter this world with nothing and leave it in the same manner and fashion as we arrived.  Between these two dramatic milestones of birth and death life is lived, character is developed and our spirits are meant to soar high above our elemental human nature.  We live our lives not alone, but within a greater context called society – one that helped to nurture and nourish us from our earliest days into the people we are today.  What then is the true meaning of a ‘just society’ when we ourselves want for nothing while others want for everything? Isn’t the accumulation of possessions completely out of context with our arrival and exit from this world?  Of what value is the accumulation of earthly goods when nothing in this world can be owned or taken with us when we depart?  For in this life we are but stewards of everything and owners of nothing. The greatest virtue we can aspire to while we still have time for living is to love and care for others along the way.  For it’s in loving and caring for others, that we find we’ve been truly loved and cared for…”  – Mark D. Jones

~~~~~~~~~~

“I agree, Meghan.  The topic of my first book will be on homelessness in America.  I want to expand on the theme that we are our brother’s keeper.  If we fail in the area of homelessness, how can we be called a moral, just and civil society?  It doesn’t matter if homeless people all have their individual issues, we all have something affecting us in life – some of us just find it easier to deal with our issues than others, that’s all.  As a society it’s our responsibility to meet the needs of the most vulnerable among us and that includes providing for the well-being of the homeless, as well as for everyone else who depends on an orderly and properly functioning civil society, which is all of us, Meg.”

“So why don’t you just start writing your book on America’s homeless now?  Have you already started drafting it out?”

“My original plan was to start doing research after graduation.  It was my intention, before we met this term, to live among the homeless for a period of time after graduation in order to be authentic to both their situation and to myself as an author.  I have opinions and have read extensively on the topic of homelessness, but I can’t really know the issues until I experience them myself firsthand and separate my opinions and prejudices from the facts on the ground.”

“Steve, do you really mean that we’re going to get married, move to San Diego and then you’re going to go live as a homeless person for real?  I’m really confused here, what about a job?  What about me?  What about our future?  How could this ever work?  Writers don’t make any money for years and that’s if they’re lucky.  Most writers never make any money and if they do it’s long after after they’re dead and gone.  How can we support ourselves on my entry-level teaching salary alone once I have one?”

“Like I said, Meg, that was my original plan before we met.  I understand your concerns and this is obviously a work in progress. The plan now is to actually do a number of different things all at the same time, sort of.  First of all, I’ll research my book on homelessness as I have time.  I plan on interviewing the people that work with the homeless on a daily basis and talking to everyone involved in the process of providing services to the homeless – city, county, state, government officials, politicians, non-profit organizations and volunteer groups – including churches, shelters, food banks and the like.  Although I’d like to go underground and blend into the homeless community in order to gain their confidence and stories, I have a new opportunity on the horizon.  Nothing’s in concrete yet, but I’m in discussions about creating an internet startup geared towards organizing all available services to the homeless.  Once people know they’re in need of help or have been referred for assistance, they’ll be able to walk through a registration process of all available services geared towards meeting their needs.  That’s the key, here – tailoring assistance to each individual’s needs.  There’s a chance I’ll have an opportunity to actually test this approach in San Diego once we arrive there, but I’m waiting to hear back about the opportunity.”

“I agree wholeheartedly with your approach to researching the subject of homelessness, but I don’t want you living on the streets as part of the process, Steve.  The streets are a dangerous place to be – especially at night.  I want you to first discuss your research project with the Police Department to tell them of your intentions before you do anything.  It won’t compromise your integrity as an author and in case something happens they won’t think that you’re part of a drug deal or robbery or something bad happening – I want you to be safe. That may be selfish, but I need you and don’t want anything to happen to you in the name of research.”

“That’s fine, Meghan, I agree with you – it’s the smartest way to go. That’ll be my starting point for the entire project once we’re settled into the condo in San Diego.”

“You said you’ll do a number of things after we get married, Steve, what are the other things?”

“I’m currently in the process of building an internet startup focused on revamping the entire approach to learning and it’s right up your alley, Meg.  The current way we teach students in America is completely outdated, hugely expensive, inefficient and oftentimes ineffective.  The bottom tier of students simply drop out, the top level students aren’t challenged enough to reach their full potential and everyone else is really a hit or miss proposition.  My aim is to tailor the process of learning to meet the needs of each individual student right where they’re at based on aptitude, ability, interest and desire. Technology will allow students to learn at their own pace and follow the thread of their interests anywhere they want to go within the entire spectrum of the learning environment and the real world.  Our aim is to tailor education to meet the needs of students, as opposed to today’s system which is designed to meet the needs of the educational system.  Our focus is on building a partnership with students of all ages and walks of life so they are able to live their lives to their highest potential – not to simply pass a standardized multiple-question test and receive a rubber stamp of approval.”

“So what’s your plan, Steve?  How will you achieve your goal?”

“I originally outlined my ideas during my freshman year for our high school science fair, Meghan.  I proposed the idea of totally revamping the educational process in a number of different ways.  My science teacher recommended that I forward the paper to a consultant friend of his in Seattle by the name of Chris Williams.  He’s been my mentor throughout the entire project and was the one that initially stood up the software company and brought Andy Johnston onboard to run the entire development operation and create the courseware.  He’s been working with me on the concept ever since and we’ve been incorporated as a software company for three years now.  We have agreements with roughly 1000 different online organizations, industries and companies so far and an entire network of learning is currently being put into place.  The personnel, administrative and facility accounts for the first five years of projected operation are already funded and ready to go.  All of the development costs of the software company have been paid for by a partnership of established internet companies.  My position is what I call a Creative Consultant, which allows me to involve myself anywhere I want in the development process from a creative aspect.  We have a team of additional consultants that are assisting us as well.  My salary since the beginning has been deposited into a special account that I call the Imagineering Workshop for me to use towards developing future ideas.  Ideas are never the problem for me, Meghan – time and resources are always the critical factors.”

“What’s different about your approach to education, Steve?  As a future teacher you have my complete attention!”

“Here are the major points, Meg.  First of all, learning should be focused on the needs and interests of students and not geared to support the current brick and mortar educational model.  The second point is that the learning process should be internet based with the involvement of mentors facilitating the learning process.  The third point is that learning should be designed as a lifelong continuum for students of all ages.  The fourth point is that learning needs to take place in the real-world and not in an isolated environment that’s removed from the process of living, but integrated into the student’s family, friends, neighborhood, livelihood and community.  The fifth point is that learning should be free for everyone without regard to economic background or geographic location and be completely detached from current funding mechanisms such as property taxes. The sixth point is to seamlessly integrate the business community into the learning process in order to underwrite software costs and to mentor and prepare students for the workplace.  The final point is that learning should be fun for everyone and the litmus test for everyone involved in the learning process.”

“I’m confused, Steve.  Can you give me a few concrete examples of each one so I can visualize them?”

“Sure, Meg.  Let’s say we’re designing a system of learning from scratch on a blank piece of paper – not an educational system – but a system of learning.  Point number one is that the student is the focus of the activity of learning.  Without the student no learning is necessary.  Why should the student need to conform to any model of learning besides the one he or she desires to receive it in?  If every student wants to learn in a different way, in a different place, at a different pace and in a different sequence, then our learning system should be able to deliver it to them as desired.”

Meghan closed her eyes and listened intently as Steve continued, “By delivering the learning process through the internet with mentors and tutors as desired by the student, the process of learning can take place when and where the student chooses to receive it: at the kitchen table, at a relative’s house, at their parent’s workplace, at the library, during a work/study partnership at work, at a friend’s house, at the beach, at a church or community center or at a sponsor-based location anywhere in the community.  The process of learning should take place within the community itself and within the context of living life – not in an ivory tower environment that has no relationship to the world the student lives in.”

“My next point is that learning should be a lifetime activity in a seamless continuum across all ages, aptitudes, abilities, interests and desires.  Ability has no direct relationship to age.  If a young student has the ability and chooses to work hard, there’s no reason they can’t advance faster through the coursework than a traditional, fixed-age approach. So our approach disengages age completely from the learning process and replaces it with aptitude, ability, interest and desire.  After all, desire is the number one driver of learning – all the aptitude and ability in the world counts for nothing if there’s no interest or desire to learn.  That’s why so many drop out of the current educational system, because the students have no desire to remain within the system.  They feel like going to school is a punishment, which is the opposite of what learning should be all about.”

“Steve, I’m onboard so far, but your next point I believe was that learning needs to take place within the community, how can that happen?”

“Think about it this way, Meghan.  If we’re preparing young people to go out into the real-world and at the same time encouraging adults to pursue a lifelong, work/study approach to learning, why wouldn’t we encourage the process of learning to take place in the real-world? Remember, the learning process is tailored to the needs of the student and delivered via the internet to wherever the student chooses to be.  Learning should be a community partnership and the location of learning is anywhere the student wants it to be.  Let the student and his or her family decide what the need is and where the learning needs to take place – the proof of the pudding is in the learning itself.  The concept of brick and mortar locations for learning is 20th century thinking.  On-demand learning – anyway, anywhere, anytime, anyplace – is now our 21st century reality.”

“I noted that your next point was learning should be free for everyone and not tied to property taxes – how can that be possible, Steve?”

“Easy, Meg.  Our society is currently based on young people completing their educations and then seeking employment.  Too often the educational process stops right there.  On the other hand, businesses require a qualified workforce within their communities to hire from.  Our approach does away with the costly requirement of a community having to fund and staff multi-million dollar schools through property taxes.  Instead, it allows the process of learning to take place based on the needs of the student.  Businesses sign on to sponsor and fund the courseware and mentor students from early on in the learning process.  There’s an entire community of retired folks from all walks of life currently signing up to mentor students – retired bankers, policemen, teachers, homemakers, office managers, etc.  It takes a community effort to build a better community and students are at the center of that process.”

“How does that business-student mentorship program work, Steve? Isn’t that just bringing advertising into the learning experience?  How can that be a positive aspect for learning?”

“Our model focuses on serving the needs of students and their community by bringing students and businesses together to form a partnership where everyone wins.  Think about it, Meg.  Students will eventually want to find employment in their chosen field of study and businesses want to hire locally from an educated population.  Since our system is focused on lifelong learning, employers and employees foster this relationship over the long term.  Instead of viewing learning as an isolated process, we integrate learning into a student’s life as it exists – on their terms.”

“So you’re talking about a true partnership between student and employer, Steve?  Not just about filling your courseware with advertising?”

“Exactly, Meg – it’s a true hands-on relationship.  Even though the educational process is internet based, the students, employees, employers and mentors all live within the community and have a stake in its future.  For example, say a student wants to study art as an area of interest.  Local artists, businesses selling and manufacturing art supplies, companies that use or produce artwork in their products, galleries and museums, all form what we call an art community or patrons of the arts.  They will provide and promote opportunities to students of all walks of life to participate in art as both mentors and employers.  The goal is for businesses to sponsor courseware, equipment and supplies, as well as to provide mentors in their particular areas of expertise.  Learning doesn’t exist for its own sake, Meghan, but needs to be applied within the world we live in. Learning is experiential – it’s meant to be lived and experienced.”

“Steve, what about the needs of families?  What do they do if both parents work?  You can’t just leave children alone at home to study on the internet, what will those families do?”

“Remember, Meg, learning needs to be focused on the needs of the community – students, family and employers.  We want all students – children and adults as well – to be totally engaged in the learning process in partnership with the greater community.  That means that each family will make informed decisions based on their specific needs, desires and requirements.  If a family needs assistance in whatever form, the community steps up to meet their need.  We already have sponsors signed up as mentors to create environments for learning. For example, we have a major hotel chain that wants to partner with students of all ages and has made space available to meet students’ needs during the day.  We’re taking this full-circle from the days of the one room school house.  We’ll have students of all ages learning onsite at the same time.”

“But, Steve, how safe is this environment going to be for children of all ages?  It sounds like an accident waiting to happen.”

“This is a total community approach, Meg.  There’s an entire community of retired folks signing up to participate in the mentorship program from every walk of life.  Everyone will go through background checks and work in partnership with businesses in a grassroots approach to learning.  Students need to participate in the community around them instead of being isolated from it in a brick and mortar school.”

“How can you possibly integrate sports and extracurricular activities into this model of yours, Steve?  Where are the facilities?”

“Our entire system is considered extracurricular, Meghan, because the courseware lives online and everything else is a smorgasbord approach based on the needs of the student.  It’s simply a matter of identifying a need and delivering a solution to meet that need.  To study violin you need to enlist the support of a violin instructor.  To play soccer you need to find a soccer league and join a team.  To act in a play requires a theater group.  All of these activities are part of the broader sponsorship program to support the needs of students and families.  We even have auto rental companies on board to shuttle students from where they are to where they need to be.  it’s a total community approach.”

“What about accreditation, Steve, how can you possibly accredit such a wide-ranging and individually based program?”

“What does accreditation really mean, Meghan?  That you were present in school for a given period of hours, days or years?  That you memorized and crammed to pass a multiple-choice test?  Yes, of course, our courseware will be accredited, but the accreditation process will look at the entire learning environment and mentorship program – not just what takes place within a traditional brick and mortar approach.  We’re not focused on passing standardized tests, we’re focused on preparing students to live successful and meaningful lives from every aspect.”

“Meghan looked at Steve with a look of utter amazement after having heard all of this for the very first time.  Steve, you’re really unbelievable.  Why didn’t you tell me any of this before you asked me to marry you?”

“Well, Meg, we haven’t had much time to talk about our future together and I wanted it to be a surprise.  I wanted you to love me for who I am and not for what the future may or may not hold for us.  There are no guarantees in life and I want you to be there by my side through it all –  to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part!  I love you, Meghan Lynn Swanson!”

“I love you too, Steven Thomas Andrews!  I love you more than you could ever know!  You’re my heart, my soulmate, my best friend and the love of my life – and I say yes to everything that life holds in store for us together – for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part!”

With that, the two young lovers embraced in a long and passionate kiss, forever marking the beginning of their interlocked dreams and desires as they prepared to go confidently into their new future together…