TO DREAM Written By K.C. Prologue A sad beginning and a happy ending are the keys to any good Hollywood story. The more depressing the start, the harder the journey, the higher the obstacles to overcome, the more gratifying the final chapter. Unfortunately, the real world does not have always make room for a Hollywood ending. Ceilo Adriana Bella did not deserve the hand that fate had dealt her. At the age of sixteen she was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphatic cancer that was inoperable and would not respond to any form of treatment. Be it radiation or chemotherapy even herbal supplements she tried everything that doctors, friends, women‟s journals had suggested, but to no avail. According to most of the reputable oncologists and physicians in her home country of Italy, the jovial teenage girl was going to die. For five long years she battled and she fought against it with all the will power she had. Yet, there were no if ands or buts about it; Ceilo had less than a five percent chance of seeing her twenty second birthday. With little to no possibility of survival most people would have started making plans for the inevitable outcome. Not Ceil though, she had other ideas. If her time was up, then she was going to go out with a bang. She vowed to live just one dream before she shuffled off this mortal coil which worked out well because she‟d only ever had one. Chapter 1: Ceilo‟s dream No one least of all Ceilo knew where this recurring dream originated from. Having grown up nearly a hundred miles from the Mediterranean, in the mountains of Italy it seemed a peculiar fantasy to have. Perhaps watching the Discovery channel too often had flooded her brain with these strange images. Whatever the reason, it was the same thing night after night, dream after dream, week after week. “Mama I want to go scuba diving with a dolphin.” Ceilo was a quiet girl who never asked for anything. As a result her parents both stopped what they were doing immediately to listen to her request. “But Ceilo you can‟t even swim?” Leave it to her Father Gianni to point out the obvious. “A dolphin again? What is with you and these big fish?” Her mother squealed. The ignorance of “small minded” living was not uncommon to her. Her hometown of Udine was a provincial city of nearly a hundred thousand citizens at the extreme northeastern tip of Italy. Most of the people living on this Slovenian border town were simple textile and machine workers. Her mother Francesca never left the place once in all her sixty- two years of existence. “They‟re not fish mama. They‟re mammals. Like cats and dogs and you and papa.” Pulling playfully at the kerchief her mother wore tightly around her head, Ceilo tried to educate her mother whenever possible. “They‟re fish! If you won‟t listen to stupid old me then pay attention to your father. He speaks the truth. You can not even swim.” Both of parents faced each other, nodded, and then shrugged their shoulders. How could she possibly understand? This was the same woman who once told her. “Education is for rich boys. Do you look rich? No. Are you a boy? No. I didn‟t think so. Why do you want to go to high school anyway? You should find a nice boy get married and start a family.” Frederica saw the world through the eyes of seven generations of simple people. Make enough money to feed your family, honor God, and reproduce. What else was there to do? Yes she was ignorant and at times quite naive, but her mother never shed a tear for what she didn‟t have. In some ways she was lucky. Ceilo had shed more than her fair share of tears. “It‟s my dream mama. I want to live my dream.” Listening to their only daughter ask them for a favor, left the two of them with glistening eyes. She didn‟t ask for much. In fact, she didn‟t ask for anything. Ceilo was recovering slowly from her latest and last batch of chemotherapy. Her hair was just beginning to grow back in, and she still weighed well under a hundred pounds. It was so hard to remember this skeleton of skin and bones once was a girl who people referred to as a “butterball”. The day the doctors broke the horrific news to them the whole family went to church. They were there for nearly a week straight.. Her mother and father were devout Catholics who prayed to God and tried everything imaginable to save their daughter‟s life. Regrettably even Jesus seemed incapable of healing this child. No matter their prayers, if the doctors were right, all their work and faith had failed. Ceilo was going to die. You would not hear her cry about though. Her tears were reserved for the pain. At nights when she could hardly bear it, Ceilo would let them flow against her pillow. During the daylight hours, throughout all of her ordeals, she had never once complained. Never once did she turn to them or even God and say; “Why me? I do not deserve this.” She struggled through it all with a constant smile on her face. It was the kind of grin that makes even the most attractive girls jealous because it came from within. When she turned up the corners of her mouth the very clouds in the sky scattered to cover the sun, so that it could not take away from her brilliance. Over the first two decades of her life, Ceilo didn‟t once ask her family or her friends for a single thing. While others wanted shoes, money, or cars, Ceilo remained silent. When the kids of her village were begging for sweets from the local baker, she asked for nothing. When the other teenage girls stood outside the local dance hall looking for a date, she held her tongue. Yet, there she was a girl of twenty one standing in that rickety old shell of house pressing close to her father‟s broad chest and pleading for just one present. “Please papa, I want to go scuba diving with a dolphin. Please can I go?” Holding her close to his heart, Gianni revealed a crooked grin of broken tobacco stained teeth. What could he say to her? How could he turn her down? “Of course my baby. You can do anything. If you want to go to the moon I will send you there. Let‟s wait a few more weeks though until you get your strength back.” The look in his wife‟s eyes said it all. As soon as Ceilo left for work he was going to get a tongue lashing the likes of which he had never seen. This was saying a lot too, because he had endured some ghastly ones in the past. Chapter 2: Six weeks passed, without a single mention of the promise or the trip between parent and daughter. Six weeks and no one had spoken another word of it. The beginning of the annual Prosciutto Festival in a small town to the north called San Daniele signaled the last real chance for her to go. The company Ceilo‟s worked for would be closing down for four days. The time was now or never for her to take the trip. A normally modest village San Danielle was swamped with Western and Eastern European tourists for one week every year. Sampling thousands of different sausages and cheeses they danced and sang under the influence of gaiety and fine wines. For this one week only the blue and white collar worlds mingled as one. They dressed in their fanciest outfits, got high on life, and partied till the cows came home. There was no talk of work or responsibility of family, there was only the festival. “You look absolutely spectacular Ceilo my dear.” This would normally be a time to splurge on a new dress. Most if not all of the other daughters would be wearing at least a month of their father‟s or husband‟s salary on their backs. Not Ceilo though, she wouldn‟t dream of it. His frugal daughter had taken a summer frock several years past it‟s expiration date and sewed lace and frilly satins to it. This was not the gown of woman looking for a husband. It was not the status symbol or a family trying to act superior. Her refusal to shine only stressed to everyone around her how different she was from the rest of them. Unlike most of the other “Westernized” girls in her town, Ceilo relied on natural beauty. Short skirts, exposed mid rifts, and lowered blouses were not her way to get ahead. Hidden behind her modest attire was the exquisite splendor of a model in waiting. Her now long black silky hair flowed all the way down to her shoulders. It grew like a ragweed her mother always said. Added to her smile this alone would have been enough to put Ceilo near the top of a list of eligible girls in town. However, there was also the twenty five pounds of post chemo reconditioning which had fallen quite nicely in all the right places. Still the ignorant boys of Udine recognized nothing. Too frightened by the transformation that cancer had taken on her physical appearance and too ignorant to know they couldn‟t catch it, they seemed to forget who she was. Even though her figure was once again voluptuous and curvy they saw nothing. Even those select few who chose to look her way again were unwilling to approach her as though she might yet be contagious. “Your mother and I have something to tell you.” All day long, Gianni could hardly contain himself. He was would up tightly like a rubber band ready to snap at any second from the pressure. “I hope it‟s good news.” Ceilo grinned. One look from her mother said it all. Whatever he was about to tell her, she was not happy about. It was strange to see them both of such opposite dispositions. Her father was jubilant almost giddy. Her mother looked read to vomit. “Happy festival my dear.” Wrapped in a red Cray paper was a large rectangular envelope. Ceilo tore through it cautiously not sure what she would be getting. In the past they had given her money or savings bonds to put towards a future dowry. This was something completely different though. From the look on her father‟s face, she assumed it must have been a pass through the pearly gates themselves. Whatever this year‟s gift was it must be exceptional. When she finally opened the envelope Ceilo froze. This couldn‟t be. This wasn‟t possible. She could scarcely contain her exuberance. It threatened to boil over into a full blown spectacle. “Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.” Jumping up and down like she had not done since she was a girl of eight, Ceilo practically tackled her father. Her gift consisted of a plane ticket to Honduras, a hotel voucher for seven nights at Anthony‟s Key Resort, three hundred Euros worth of Traveler‟s checks, an open water scuba certification and one scuba dive with the dolphins. “I don‟t… I can‟t … what do I say? What can I say?” Tears poured down her cheeks shamelessly. She was utterly overwhelmed by their kindness. “You leave from Udine International in four hours. Go home and pack.” The eyes of her normally powerful father filled to the very brim with delight. Choking them back inside, he squeezed her mother‟s hand proudly. It took every penny he had in the bank and a one week advance on his salary from the factory to make this dream come true. Yet, Gianni gladly gave it all and would give it all again just to see the smile on his baby girl‟s face. “Your uncle will pick you up in an hour. If it were my choice, at least one of your cousins would be going with you. Countries like that are not the place for a single young woman. Obviously you can tell this was your father‟s idea and not mine.” Her mother‟s scowl only broke for a brief second, and then returned stronger than before. This explained so much of the behavior of her parents the past couple of days. Her mother kept asking if she had clean clothes. The woman did like five loads of laundry, and kept laying them out on her bed. Plus her father brought down her chest of summer outfits from the attic even though it was far to early to be wearing these sort of things in Udine. It all made sense now. The way her mother glared at her, the sadness in her normally happy father‟s eyes. It all made sense. “I‟ll be fine mama. Thank you so so much. I can never repay you for this.” Another dozen kisses found their mark, and Ceilo bounced off towards the bus with a feeling of contentment that she had not known since before she‟d been diagnosed. While riding the bus back to their house, a single thought kept playing over and over again in her head. It was a quote from her freshman English professor. She remembered every word he‟d said “No matter how short your time or how small it may be, everyone must live at least one their dreams before their final day.” Chapter 3: Adolphus Emerging from a blackness unlike any she had ever known, a silvery apparition danced back in forth. It moved in a way that was unnatural to her human world. Excited and frightened at the same time, her eyes could not break away from this phantom. Inch by inch it moved forward. Second by second it slid into focus. Although still several hundred yards away it caused her heart beat so loudly in her chest she could hear her pulse. Closer and closer it came the ghostly shape finally taking on it‟s familiar form. A single male dolphin morphed out of the darkness. Though it made no noise and certainly spoke no words, she could heard a voice in the recesses of her mind. It was comforting like a mother‟s coo to her unborn child floating blissfully in her womb. “Do not be afraid. I am your destiny.” Having never swum a stroke in all her years, Ceilo waved her arms ineffectively in the cold blackness trying to push forward. Closer and closer her destiny and her dream slid towards one another. Her fingers stretched out to their fullest extent trying to touch it she opened her mouth to call to it, but there was no noise. Constantly grinning, her new friend cocked it‟s face to the side. As inept and uncomfortable as she was moving through the liquid of her floating prison, the dolphin was just the opposite. A single flip of its tail sent it gliding effortlessly forward. Leaning in closer and closer. Its face turned and they appeared ready to kiss one another. Her heart beat so hard now it threatened to shatter her eardrums. The dream was complete. She would finally get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and then Ceilo‟s head snapped forward. Awakened by the turbulence of her plane ride, Ceilo beat her fists against the seat in front of her. This was the closest she had gotten to the dolphin before. Never had they been near enough to reach out. For three years the vision had been progressing. For three years of her life she hoped and longed to complete the embrace. “I guess it wasn‟t time yet.” She held her hand to her heart to try and keep it from ripping out of the center of her chest. How much longer would she have to wait before she could fulfill her destiny? “The captain has illuminated the fasten seat belt sign. Please take your seats and fasten your belt tightly. We are in for some turbulence during the next thirty minutes or so.” An American flight attendant struggled with her Italian. A few of the passengers smirked at her attempt. “Do you know where we are now?” It was the fifth time Ceilo had asked the old man sitting next to her the same question. Expecting him to lose patience, she was constantly amazed at his pleasant disposition. “We are an hour from Miami now miss. Aren‟t you excited?” This young lady reminded him of his own grand daughter. Her pleading brown eyes and innocent smile, touched his heart strings. Pulling his violet cardigan tight around his narrow shoulders, the seventy plus year old man shook the sleep from his eyes. “Oh yes soooo much!” This was her first plane ride out of Europe and Ceilo could not restrain her enthusiasm. “Are you staying in Miami?” His eyes focused on a pink ribbon on her bright blue blouse and a couple of well-hidden bald spots in the back of her head. Cancer in the young was an abomination of fate. “No I am going to Honduras. I am going to scuba dive with dolphins.” Although she was by far the best student in her English classes it was still very strange to speak the language with an American. English and American were so different from one another. “Wow, that sounds like something out of a dream.” His words brought tears to the young lady‟s eyes and he wondered what he could have said wrong. “A dream come true.” Ceilo whispered too quietly for anyone else to hear. Her eyes were glued to the window for the final hour of the flight. It should have been a fun time for her, watching this new country, this mythical land approaching from beneath her. Unfortunately her body had enormous difficulty dealing with the pressure change. Stabbing pain arose from deep in her abdomen. Every lymph node in her body burned as if someone were hold a match to them. This was nothing new for her. Sharp searing spasms that would rip the normal person in half were part of the routine. “Are you okay miss?” During both the ascent and descent his new friend grew unnaturally pale and gripped her side. “Just the pressure.” Biting her lip Ceilo did her best to hide the vicious battle going on inside of her. Aggressive treatments of chemotherapy and radiation ravaged her body to the point where Ceilo prayed for the end. Yet, they had little to no effect on the cancer in her blood. Despite their ineffectiveness in killing the disease, her myriad of medicines were the only things keeping her alive. Since abandoning the treatments the cancer had spread throughout her body. Although it was her abdomen that experienced the brunt of discomfort nearly half the white blood cells throughout her body were decaying. “Cancer?” Adolfus Whiperman had seen this agony before. His wife of fifty years Winny grimaced similarly in the weeks leading up to her death. It was hard to believe that was two years ago already. Worried that this conversation might be uncomfortable for her, Adolfus had held off talking about it until now. “Is it that obvious.” A particularly nasty stab ripped through her body so that she could barely speak. The old man reached out his hand to her. Ceilo did not take the time to think, she gripped it tightly. They were on the ground in ten minutes and the torture finally subsided, as her insides readjusted to the change in pressure. “Thank you.” Picking up her backpack and purse, Ceilo turned to her new friend. He did not say a word. His eyes filled with tears he simply kissed her on the cheek much like her dearly departed grandfather. What else do you say to someone when you know they are dying? How can you tell a young girl who had hardly had a chance to live that everything was going to be okay, when you knew it wasn‟t? Chapter 4: Marcel Ceilo had never seen a palm tree, not even one of them. Yet here she was with dozens all around her, and she hadn‟t even left the airport. Her direct flight to Roatan was not scheduled to depart for another six hours. Despite being fatigued beyond words, her body refused to sleep. “South Beach here I come.” American movies and television shows corrupt the minds of many young Europeans especially those in the smaller towns. Ceilo Adriana Bella was one of those disillusioned souls. “Why do you want to go there? Looking for the clubs?” Marcel Rivage was from Port Au Prince Haiti. Ten years ago landed on South Beach on a raft with thirty three of his fellow countrymen. It had been almost two decades since that fateful. Since then, he‟d sent nearly every penny he earned driving this taxi back home to his wife and three kids. He hoped if things went well that he could bring them over soon. Marcel missed his family very much. “No I want to walk down the strip and go to the fancy boutiques. I might even have lunch at the News Café.” Her eyes lit up so brightly in the mirror, the driver could not help but laugh in the front seat. “As someone who have been to South Beach a million times, would you mind if I made a suggestion?” Tourists in some ways were all the same. They held deluded expectations of grandeur when it came to the hallowed Ocean Drive. Traveling thousands of miles they converged on the twenty blocks of beachfront expecting to see movie stars and the “beautiful” people. Most left disappointed while a precious few lived their dreams with one of a million Gloria Estefan sightings or something similar. “Of course, you knew this area much better than I.” “Walk up Washington Ave first. Go through Lincoln Road mall and only after you have seen the true Miami Beach should you go to Ocean Drive. That my Italian miss is the real South Beach.” Her warm auburn eyes were straining painfully in the back seat. “That sounds wonderful Marcel.” Gritting her teeth together Ceilo struggled to regain her composure. She reached into her purse and withdrew a bottle of pills. It was just one of her nineteen prescriptions. “Are you okay miss?” Marcel stared intently at her face in the mirror. He knew the answer to his question already. “I‟m grand Marcel. This is the best day of my life.” Apologizing that he could not give her a more personal tour, the driver took one lap around the area to show her where everything was. He turned the meter off far too early. This was not a tourist he was willing to soak for a penny more than he should. There were so many stores and such fascinating people she could barely keep her head still for a second. Yet for every “beautiful” woman in string bikini or muscle shirt there was another in torn jeans and ratty clothes. The disparity left her feeling empty. For some reason, she believed America was the land of opportunity. In her mind‟s eye no one struggled, and one ever starved. After visiting nearly a hundred stores she spent a total of twelve dollars on post cards, and nothing more. Still when she got to Ocean Drive Ceilo was twenty-five dollars poorer. The money went to several less fortunate patrons of the street. Two of the young men she‟d helped were eating pizza and waving enthusiastically towards her. They had not eaten in three days. Not once did she think that perhaps these people were misrepresenting themselves or taking her money to buy drugs. Not once did she question whether or not what she had done was right. This sort of thing never occurred to her. All of the fancy hotels and art deco buildings fascinated her to no end. At one point she actually had to sit down and catch her breath, not because of her illness but in part due to her sure delight of the moment. The sound of an alarm on her watch caused a small frown to form on her normally bright face.. In an hour she would have to leave. Her smirk returned when she recalled. “Tomorrow I will be swimming with dolphins.” Passing Gianni Versace‟s former house was a painful reminder of the violence of the world. The former fashion designer was murdered right there on his own front stoop. She knew him. They met twice before when he came to Udine on business. The textile plants and factories supplied much of his materials. Ceilo drifted down the drive lost in her own memories. “The News Café.” She read the sign aloud. Feeling out of place, she took a seat at sidewalk table. Her eyes widened as she perused the prices on the menu. Perhaps South Beach was not so outrageously priced as she had been forewarned. Her server sat poised next to her table waiting for her to make a decision. “I don‟t mean to be disrespectful, but can I just get a cup of tea. If you need me to leave the table I understand.” Ceilo was embarrassed by her monetary dilemma, she could only imagine what the waitress with the bleach blond hair, and fake breasts was going to say. Chances are it wouldn‟t be pleasant. “Don‟t feel bad honey. It‟s a slow day. Take your time and relax I‟ll be back in minute.” Polly Jo Anne came from Louisiana and did not have a pretentious bone in her body. Driven here by Hurricane Katrina, she did not fit into the snobbery of South Florida. In fact, she stopped several times to talk with Ceilo. They discussed items on the menu, and Polly even took time to discuss her former life. She explained that her house in the Parish had been wiped clean from the planet in the floods. “Its all good though. I‟m alive and that‟s what matters.” Polly tossed a in a couple of biscuits and she winked at the Ceilo. “You have a good trip.” Many of the people in her town who had traveled quite extensively warned that Americans could be quite distasteful and rude. Therefore Ceilo was pleasantly surprised by how nice everyone had been with her so far. She withdrew Marcel‟s business card from her purse, kissed Polly on both cheeks, and walked to a payphone. “Well how did you like it?” Ten minutes later they were speeding west towards the airport. “I told you before Marcel. This the very best day of my life.” They barely made it the terminal in time. Luckily she had checked in for her flight when she landed. Both her bags were where she left them in the locker. Practically throwing them to one of the Taca baggage handlers with a five dollar bill she ran for the gate. Normally an ordeal, she sped thankfully quickly through security. She barely stopped for more than a ten seconds on the race for her gate arriving with just a few minutes to spare. Only as she approached the agent , there were not passengers anywhere. Somehow it seemed she had missed her flight. Ceilo ran towards the glass windows facing out towards the tarmac “Hold on their little lady. I am going to need your boarding pass.” Bobby Patenga flashed his Alabama smile her way. “Did I miss the flight?” Her heart dropped when she could not see a plane. “Not at all missy. Look right over here.” Bobby lead her to the window on the other side of the podium. “You still have ten minutes before take off.” He handed her back the boarding pass and her passport, then tipped his cap. “Thank goodness.” Practically skipping down the gangway she got to her seat in record time, and collapsed in ball. Although most of the plane was packed with tourists and returning residents, both seats next to her were empty. “Welcome aboard Taca Airways flight thirty one non-stop to Roatan, Honduras.” Chapter 4: Anthony‟s Key Two hours and ten minutes later, Ceilo was jolted awake as the plane touched down on the blacktop airstrip. Somehow in spite of extensive pain, she managed to sleep throughout the entire descent. Several young ladies came on board to escort the passengers off. As the cabin door opened warm humid air rushed in past her face. No longer able to contain herself, Ceilo skipped to the ramp and then out onto the runway. The enormity of the moment hit her all at once when the thick humid air slid down her throat and filled her lungs. Her burning blood eased off slightly as the sun split the wispy clouds above her head. As if she were powered by solar energy, Ceilo felt an invisible battery indicator creeping up bar by bar within her. This place was going to be good not only for her soul, but for her health as well. “Thank you Papa.” Ceilo was so excited to be there, she started walking in the wrong direction. Two of the flight attendants caught her, and escorted her owards the small terminal. Several representatives from Anthony‟s Key Resort, were waiting for the passengers as they picked up their luggage. An extremely handsome young many named Raymond took her luggage and flashed a gleaming pallid smile. “On this trip miss you can do as little or as much as you want to. Carrying your bags though his my job.” Even though his wink was filled with innocence, Ceilo blushed a bit as he escorted her towards the tour bus. There were at least ten other people on her plane going to the resort. They piled into the safari bus. Each person seeming to respond with various reactions. Some could not wait to get into the ocean while another couple from New York argued that the South Pacific would have been a better idea than this. “If the transportation is any indication, Bora Bora would have been a much better idea.” A rather unpleasant woman grumbled to her husband. Ceilo was speechless. Her tongue trapped in a world unlike any she had ever known. There was nothing like Roatan in Europe. In her estimation, there was nothing like this anywhere except on the television. Constantly staring out her window Ceilo watched a world as foreign as the moon go by. Trees and flowers that she had only seen in photos and dreamed about flowed gently by her face. She felt as if she were a bird. Closing her eyes, she imagined that she was one, perhaps a multi-colored parrot, flying through the fichus and black olives without a care in the world. In this imaginary world, she glided on the wind coming down off the emerald green mountains, she stopped only briefly to pick the seeds of a fallen guava. The driver announced the ride to be thirty-five minutes long but it hardly felt like ten. Listening to Raymond‟s orientation would have been helpful, and still she could concentrate on anything except the splendor that is Roatan. “Welcome to the East Dock. Carry only your purses, and follow Juanita to the front desk. Everything else will be in your rooms before you are.” As soon as the van stopped, her eyes opened. There would be plenty of time for daydreams later. “Hi my name is Julito I am the hotel manager. Welcome to paradise.” Ceilo recognized the man‟s face from the brochure. His father owned the resort as well as being the Governor of all of Roatan. Never expecting to be met by such an influential person at the dock she grinned/blushed when he took her hand. “This can‟t be real.” Ceilo gasped as she stared across the teal green waters. She had to remind herself to breath. Several thatch roof huts strutted out into the ocean on wooden pylons. They grew out of the water like trees from the forest floor. Nothing about them appeared man made. They fit perfectly with the environment. This was too beautiful to put into words. “Would you like to see your room now miss Bella?” The young lady by her side was very dark skinned perhaps Native American in features. Her accent suggested she was a local, and yet she spoke almost perfect Italian. “Thank you yes.” There was no check in. No lines at the front desk to traverse. Instead her own personal chambermaid boarded the fifteen passenger tender with her. Inside of ten minutes later they were walking up a long wooden dock toward her cabana. Ceilo kept looking over the sides of the extensive network of wooden docks into the water. Any second, she expected a dolphin to pop to the surface. When the door to her particular room opened a most wondrous fragrance of Frangipani wafted towards her face. “I hope that everything is to your liking. If you need anything at all please feel free to contact me by dialed 311 on your phone. My name is Maria.” Even her accent was nearly perfect. On a telephone she could easily have been mistaken for a resident of Verona or Milan. “Thank you Maria. Everything is wonderful.” Trying to give a tip to the young lady, she was taken back by a waving hand. Maria pointed towards a large placard on the wall and grinned sheepishly.. ALL INCLUSIVE. NO INDIVIDUAL TIPPING ALLOWED. “Forgive me I should have paid attention to the speech.” Both young ladies laughed in spite of themselves, and then Ceilo walked out onto her private balcony. “Papa if you could only be here.” It was late in the afternoon on Sunday and the sun was just starting to set. Her room faced west back towards the mountains of Honduras. The hills were lit up in a crimson display of unimaginable beauty. A lump formed in her throat, and she wondered if she could continue to hold her emotions in check. It took a moment or two before she realized that someone was knocking at her door. By the time she got there the young man was actually walking away. “Miss Bella. I apologize for the intrusion. I am Christian from the dive shop. I will be your scuba instructor this week. This is just a reminder to fill out all the paperwork in your folder and to meet back at the resort for your first class at ten a.m. Again sorry to bother you.” His blond hair was nearly white, and yet his skin the color mahogany. Not sure if the accent was Australian or New Zealand, Ceilo answered simply. “Thank you I will be there.” Every man she had seen since stepping off the plane was devastatingly attractive. They must grow them differently down here she thought, because the men of Udine could not begin to compare. Picking up the phone she dialed her parents using the calling card he father secretly tucked in the outside zipper of her hand bag. “Ciao papa.” For ten minutes she regaled them with her tales of travel, and all the things she had seen already. It was after eleven in the evening their tine and she could hear her father nodding off on the phone. “I am so happy baby to hear that you are enjoying yourself.” Before he could say another word her mother took the phone from his ear. “You be careful of those men down there. They are all animals with only one thing on their mind.” For a moment or two Ceilo tried to explain that this was just a rumor. In the end though she agreed to be careful and left it at that. When she finally did get off the phone she started the unpacking process. “Maybe I should read through this.” The welcome letter from the hotel screamed of hospitality. A bracelet inside was to be worn at all times. It would guarantee her free food and soft drinks. Clasping it on her wrist she read through the scuba diving information. She never made it past the first page. The medical form she needed to complete clearly stated if you check yes to anyone of these maladies you will not be able to continue with the course. There were at least three she would have to answer yes to. Suddenly her dream seemed shattered. Staring to the marine institute a mere kilometer away, Ceilo could swear she saw of the dolphins jumped up in the air. Her heart sank further into despair. She‟d traveled all this way, only to fail so close to her final destination. “Maybe they will make an exception?” Ceilo tried to assure herself. None of the rooms had air conditioning but she hardly even noticed. With the windows open a steady ocean breeze kept her cool throughout the evening. Ceilo didn‟t bother attending the opening night dinner. She was too sad to face the world. Instead she spent the evening on her balcony staring out into the cove. When the night became too long and her will to stay awake as long as possible finally faded, she took to the bathroom with one of the apples from her fruit basket. There lined up on the counter were her medicines. One by one she read the labels. One by one she took her pills. One by one she sniffled a tear. It seemed even her dreams were conspiring against her and dying along with her body. Chapter 5: Christian Still feeling sorry for herself in the morning she skipped breakfast, and walked towards the dive shop with a banana and frown. When she got inside, Christian was the first person to greet her. “You look like you swallowed a lemon.” It was obvious to him that she was greatly distressed. This was completely the opposite of the ear to ear grin he‟d seen earlier in the day which threatened to permanently over stretch her face. He couldn‟t wait to see her again at orientation. Only she never showed up. He worried that she might be sick. “I will not be able to take your course.” Ceilo handed back all of the books and forms . In order to make her point, she placed the medical form on top. “I see.” His eyes focused on the form. Now he looked like the one who had swallowed a lemon. “This is why we ask people to fill it out before they come down here.” Normally he would have said this. It wasn‟t the first time, it had happened. He kept the words to himself this time. “My father he doesn‟t speak English or Spanish for that matter. He probably didn‟t understand when he booked the trip.” Ceilo tried to explain. The pain in her glistening brown eyes said the “I told you so” speech was completely unnecessary. Instead Christian tried quickly to brighten up her spirits. “Don‟t fret miss there are still a million different ways to see the ocean without scuba diving. You could snorkel, kayak, sail, surf, or swim. Heck if you really need to I could carry through the waves.” His voice was so upbeat and full of promise she managed to feign a grin on his behalf. “I had a dream to dive with dolphins. I was trying to live that dream.” Usually not one to harp on the negative, Ceilo felt only slightly better. “There are still five other programs you can do with them. You have the dolphin swim, specialty course, trainer for the day, beach encounter, or the Trainer 101. You can go completely dolphin crazy without ever strapping on a tank.” No matter what Christian said to cheer her up, he could see it was not striking home. At first he considered doing something he‟d never even dreamed of. He thought of cheating the system. When he read her medical sheet more carefully he came to her notes written in the other field. Terminal Cancer The lemon was back in his mouth again. “Listen I would love to help you. Really I would do just about anything to get your certified and in the water with them, but I just can‟t. I‟m sorry you have to understand there is reason for these rules.” Life wasn‟t fair. He knew that already, but this just proved it once again. All the pithy little things he had griped about in his life became almost insignificant. This girl was dying and he could not help that. All she wanted to do was dive with a dolphin, something he had done hundreds of times before, and he could not help her. “Perhaps I will go to the facility and take one of the other programs. After all swimming with a dolphin and diving with one can‟t be much different right?” Inside her head she was having a battle. “Enough already Ceilo, you are not going to get to dive. Snap out of it! Don‟t be a baby. Look at the sacrifice your father made just to get you here. This had to cost him a month‟s salary at least!” A low deep growl built in his chest. “Personally I like the beach encounter the best. You get to see them in their natural environment. The trainer program is really cool too. Feeding them and all is a real hoot.” Christian couldn‟t hide the truth from her. She could see right through his bluff. There was nothing like diving with the dolphins and he knew it. “Don‟t worry about the money either. I will talked to Julito. He‟s a good man. He‟ll credit you back for the price of the course and everything.” All Christian would have to do is mention Miss Bella‟s medical condition and Julito would probably credit the whole trip back. This was the sort of person he was. With a heart the size of an elephant‟s, he would do anything to make the world a better place for everyone. “Thank you.” Faking a smile as best she could, Ceilo strolled towards the dolphin booth at the end of the dock. She kicked several pebbles off into the water. “There is another way you know.” Her sadness got the better of him. Christian decided he could not let her go away unhappy. “There is a man over on the Tan that can take you out to see wild dolphins. It is not really legal… Well maybe legal is a bad word. Its not part of the rules to take non-certified divers into the water with dolphins. He tends to break the rules a lot though. I would do it myself but… I just can‟t. ” His voice was barely audible now. If one of the staff heard him, certainly he would lose his job. They were so close to each other now, his lips almost touched her as he whispered. Ceilo could feel his breath on her ear. The smell of saltwater on his skin closed her eyes in a most pleasant way. “What is his name and where can I find him?” The pitter patter of her heart was growing. Not just from the closeness of Christian but from the ever so faint possibility that she might still get to live her dream. “He spends most of his time between the Twisted Toucan and the Cannibal Café on the west end. If you want to grab a bite to eat, I‟ll arrange a taxi for you.” A warm and contented smile was building in the young lady‟s soft brown eyes. It made Christian dance inside. Doing something naughty with nice consequences was what he lived for. He kept telling himself over and over again. “What could it hurt?” The girl was dying. If you were going to go, blowing bubbles wasn‟t a bad way to do it. This was how he wanted to pass on someday. “Thank you so much I won‟t tell a soul.” Ceilo kissed him slowly and softly on both cheeks. “Will he have any problems with the fact that I am sick?” She mumbled. “I don‟t imagine he will. As long as you have money, he‟ll take you out.” Christian hissed. Ceilo waved and turned. Running towards the restaurant, she could scarcely keep herself from skipping. Suddenly she stopped on a dime spun around. “You never told me his name.” How was she going to find the man without a name or a face? What was she going to say when she got to the bar? “Hey do you know the guy who does the illegal dives with the dolphins?” That would not go over well would it? “Philippe LeCroix. If you ask the bartenders they‟ll find him for you. They all know him real well.” Her kisses fresh on his cheeks Christian turned towards his classroom. As she disappeared he wondered had he done a good thing or a bad one? “The girl is dying. What harm could it be?” A sad but true thought kept jumping into and out of his consciousness. Chapter 6: The West End Located about 65 kilometers off the Northern Coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands group consists of 3 main Islands (Roatán, Guanaja, and Utila), 3 smaller islands (Barbareta, Morat, and Helene), and 65 smaller cays. Between these islands and the mainland are the Cayos Cocinos (Hog Islands). During the Mayan reign in Central America (between the 4th and 10th centuries), the Paya Indians populated the Bay Islands. The Payas were a smaller and less advanced group than the Mayans. Their civilization was characterized by simpler housing and tools. Payan artifacts (pottery, jade, and shells) are often found in Island burial and ceremonial sites and are referred to by the locals as "yaba ding dings." The island Indians mined jade which they took in small boats to the mainland to trade for tools, and other items. The islands provided an abundant variety of foodstuffs such as manioc, fish, corn, turtles, iguanas, agouti (island "rabbits"), native fruits, land crabs, and deer. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Europeans discovered these islands, and for almost 200 years Spanish conquistadors and British pirates battled for control of them, ignoring the Indians for the most part. During this period, the Islands were used for food and wood supplies, safe harbor, and slave trading. Remains of old British forts and towns named after famous pirates remain as their legacy. One group of slaves was "parked" here during this time during the heat of a battle. When the winners came to collect them, the slaves refused to go. These are the Garifunas who populate much of the Bay Islands to this date, still maintaining their own cultural identity and language. Punta Gorda on Roatán is one of many villages where they still make their homes. The British eventually established control of the Bay Islands, until the early 1960's when control of the Islands was officially returned to Honduras. Roatan the largest of the Bay Islands is located some thirty-five miles from the coast of the Honduras. Nine hundred feet at its highest elevation its shape reminds many of a plantain barely four miles at its widest point but some thirty four miles long. Most tourists come to the island to enjoy the second largest reef in the world second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. There are several thriving communities of mixed settlers from European, African, Native American, and West Indian descent. Although still on a Caribbean time schedule many of the modern conveniences have found their way to the Bay Islands from Internet to Satellite television. Tourist destination central was concentrated on the West End of the island, known for some of the most beautiful white sand beaches and the spectacular sunsets in the Western Hemisphere. Unlike the rustic almost primitive setting of Anthony‟s Key, the West End reminded Ceilo more of what she imagined South Beach would have been like fifty years before the high rise buildings. Bed and breakfasts one on top of one another intermingle with bars and gift shops. It was quaint and pretty but too touristy for Ceilo‟s taste. Besides this was not a social visit or a souvenir shopping trip. One thing about what Christian had said made her feel a bit uneasy about the trip. “Philippe LeCroix. If you ask the bartenders they‟ll find him for you. They all know him real well.” Clearly the man was a drinker, and she was not sure this was the kind of person she wanted teaching her how to scuba dive. It was barely ten thirty in the morning when she got to the Twisted Toucan, and there were already dozens of tourists drinking themselves into oblivion. Looking at the large margarita drinking parrot on the sign Ceilo could only chuckle. “Where everyday is party. You are guaranteed to have a good time.” Ceilo glanced down the beach at the cruise ship dock. There were hundreds possibly thousands of people running her way, and two others stumbling back. One of the bartenders poured a tequila shot and slid it across the bar at her as she approached. “Would you like some food to wash down your shot?” An unmistakable Irish brogue slid from his permanently sun burnt lips. “Thank you no. Actually I was looking for somebody.” How conversely different this atmosphere this was from the hotel she had just left. Less than five miles apart she was in another world. “Well found somebody you did.” Doing an uncanny imitation of Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back the bartender was almost taken back when she didn‟t laugh. “European?” Her facial feature and mannerisms screamed Eastern Europe. “I‟m from Italy. I‟m looking for Philippe LeCroix.” Not very comfortable with two college age boys hooting and hollering behind her, she wanted to leave this place as soon as possible. To her surprise, the bartender shook his head, and the fellow bartenders that were gathering around her, now walked away. The mere mention of the man‟s name turned them back. “He‟s not here.” Taking back the shot, he cracked a couple more Silva Vida beers and slid them to two backpacking Welshman at the end of the bar. “Would you happen to know where I can find him?” Unlike the rest of the very cordial people she had met so far, this man was quite rude. “What is it regarding?” Finally stopping what he was doing long enough, he stared into her eyes. She was clearly not the first person to come looking for Philippe. “I would like to go Scuba Diving with wild dolphins.” Ceilo kept eye contact with the bartender. She was not one to be easily intimidated. “Hammocks out back by the beach. I warn you ahead of time though he doesn‟t like to be disturbed before noon.” Finally realizing she was not a police officer or ex-girlfriend searching for alimony, he let her by. “Thank you.” Ceilo was determined to be the better person. She acted as grateful as she could given the circumstances. Having seen photos of a bar in Cozumel called Carlos and Charlie‟s she could see this was supposed to be an imitation of some sort. It had all the charm of a tiki bar with the glitz and Caribbean flare of tourist bar, mixed a host of Central American charisma. A real life Toucan chimed loudly as she passed by it. Reaching its strong colorful beak out towards her hair they exchanged some chatter. Her hand was moving up towards him carefully when she heard someone say. “I wouldn‟t do that. Caligula there can do some damage.” A completely naked dark skinned female rolled over in one of the hammocks. “Why are you looking for Philippe?” The beautiful young black woman was not the slightest bit modest in her own nudity. Throwing a sarong over her lower half, she glared at Ceilo rudely. “I want to scuba dive with a wild dolphin.” Who was this man the president of the United States? Everyone seemed to be protecting him. “He‟ll be out in back of the Villa Del Sol dive shop in about an hour playing dominoes. You may want to wait to catch him on his way out. The boys don‟t like us girls interrupting their games.” When she stood up Ceilo caught herself staring at what could very possibly be the most attractive woman she had ever seen. A mix of perhaps West Indian and Native Central American her features were exquisite and her body nearly perfect. Feeling insecure in her own skin. Ceilo stared down at her own feet ashamed of herself. “I am Maya Grande by the way.” Holding out her hand, she was quite used to being looked at like this by way by both male and female alike. “Ceilo Adriana Bella.” The focus of her new acquaintance shifted quickly to her. Ceilo was not the least bit comfortable with being ogled. “What a gorgeous name for such an alluring woman.” Her voice was sultry but the look in her eyes was more of jealousy than admiration. “Really I was just thinking the same of you.” With a nod Ceilo started for the taxi stand. “I am headed that way, I can drop you off.” Throwing a halter-top of her bare chest Maya nodded to a fire engine red scooter by the side of the road. “Thank you…” At first Ceilo was going to turn down the ride then something inside her turned. This girl seemed very genuine in her attitude. “Never judge a book by its cover.” She heard the voice of her English teacher once again. “Thank you.” It was a large scooter in excellent condition. The smell from the paint and leather seat suggested it was quite new. Wrapping her right hand casually around Maya‟s waist they took off at an alarming rate down a very bumpy dirt road. As if trying to show off Maya seemed to speed up several times and stare at Ceilo in one of the mirrors. They came to a screeching halt in front of a large group of Christmas tree palms next to an old rickety dock. “They‟re out back. See you around Ceilo Adriana Bella.” A second after Ceilo got off the scooter Maya sped off again with a bright happy smile on her face. Chapter 7: Philippe LeCroix Hidden in the two dozen or so ten-foot high palm trees was an open air picnic area. There were are least a half dozen tables surrounded by several West Indian gentlemen. Cigarette smoke and day old alcohol dominated the odor and décor of the establishment. As Maya had suggested there was not a single female at any of the tables. It looked like a run down version of a “gentlemen‟s club” that her father frequented back home. The proprietor of the establishment, a rather rotund black man with a grease stained shirt, approached her apprehensively. Several of the patrons stared up from their game to take in the site of this obviously misplaced young lady. “Can I help you miss?” When he stepped in front of her the man nearly blocked out the sun coming in off the ocean. “I am looking for Philippe LeCroix.” Ceilo knew immediately that she should have waited to approach until after the game finished. Ceilo‟s voice came out as something short of a whisper. With all the noise of the angry men cursing and slamming down their tiles on the tables she could scarcely expect him to hear her. “Back left hand corner. Table number five. You may want to wait to go in until he finishes this game.” A couple of men screamed at each other in some strange language near one of the front tables and she was certain there would be a fight. It sounded like French only slightly different. One of them slammed his next domino down and nothing progressed further. “Forgive me, but which one is he?” As the man walked away, she asked him this question not sure how he would react. “He‟s the only Haitian. Just listen for someone cursing in Creole.” A couple of players heard what the manager said and began cackling in spite of themselves. “Thanks.” Not sure what to do now, Ceilo sat down on a rather dirty bench. An older gentlemen leaned over to her. “He‟s the white man in the back. There‟s only one here.” With a wink and a toothless grin he turned back to the game. Her eyes tried to focus through all the smoke and various people milling around but she saw not one white face amongst them. Suddenly one of the games ended. The only reason she knew this was because of some screaming and several people dropped cash down on the table and walked away. A single man was left there. Barely able to see him in the fog she strained to see what he looked like. As if he had just spotted her, the man hopped up and walked towards her. His gait was very slow and deliberate. Only fifteen feet away she saw her first real view Philippe LeCroix. “Do I know you?” Sounding quite put off he did not offer up a hand or an introduction. “No you do not.” If Maya was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, Phillipe was easily the most handsome man. Although disheveled and unshaven his sharp features and turquoise green eyes had a dreamy quality about them. A lump filled her throat when he tore off his ratty white tee shirt and walked past her. “Then why are you following me?” Most certainly not French his accent seemed more island like but with that Parisian flare for the dramatic. “I want to scuba dive with the dolphins.” Several of the gamers were staring at them and laughing behind their closed hands. “Anthony‟s key about is about two miles up the beach. You can catch a ferry across.” Shaking out the shirt he put it back on. As he did so she could see a massive scar completely surrounding his ribcage. He tried to cover it up with several large tribal tattoos, but had done little to obscure it. “They won‟t certify me.” Ceilo continued to follow him. She was not giving up now. “You‟re not even a certified diver yet? Please.” Dismissing her with a very haughty wave, he lit up a cigarette and started walking down the sandy road. “I want to dive with the dolphins can you help me or not?” Starting to lose her patience with everything, she was not going to follow him any further. “No I can‟t. Go back to the Key and take a dolphin encounter or something.” At least twenty yards ahead of her, Philippe figured this would be the last of it. “Please it is my dream to dive with a dolphin. I can not give up on that dream. Please help me.” This was her last effort, and she would not ask again. “Dreams are the wishes of the foolish. The sooner you learn that the better.” Not walking as fast anymore, he was struck by something desperate in her voice. ”Maybe your dreams Mr. LeCroix but not mine.” Walking in the opposite direction, she was determined not to follow him anymore. “Why wouldn‟t Anthony‟s Key certify you?” Still moving forward but only barely now, he was intrigued by her courage. They were walking up a deserted street in a country she didn‟t know, and the girl couldn‟t be more than twenty. “What do you care?” Infuriated with him, Ceilo stomped off down the road though she had no idea where she was going. “I don‟t really. Can I make a suggestion?” Stopped now he had still not turned to face her . He dropped his cigarette to the ground, and stamped it out with his bare foot. “No.” Still trotting off she could hardly hear his voice anymore. “There is nothing on that road but a whore house. I was just going to suggest that you walk back this way. However, as you seem intent on your path, good luck.” Turning back around and grinning, Philippe went off in the opposite direction. “I have cancer Mr. LeCroix. It‟s terminal. I want to scuba dive with dolphins before I die. Only no one will certify me because of my illness. It was suggested to me that you might look past this and assist me in my quest.” Although starting some fifty yards behind him she had already caught up and was racing by him now. “However, if you are not interested I did not want to bring this up because you might feel obligated to help the dying girl. Charity is not my middle name.” Practically spitting out her words now, the truth was her hurried pace was too much. Her insides were screaming at the overexertion. “I never feel obligated to do anything. Not even to breath. If I do something it is because I want to do it. Now please slow down a notch, I have a hangover and trying to talk long distance is not my idea of fun.” The girl was gorgeous. Not in the obvious way that Maya turned heads in a marketplace. It was more like the husband that rolls over in bed after twenty years of marriage, and says I am the luckiest man alive to have you. The revelation that she was dying did not affect him as it would another. He was not saddened. He was not embarrassed by his earlier attitude or remarks.. People lived and people died this was something Philippe had grown accustomed to. He reacted accordingly. “Why should I slow down to talk to you?” Even though she said this Ceilo was barely walking now. The cancerous cells in her body attacked her all at once. Her head was swimming in the humid nearly ninety five degree air. “Mostly because it would be polite.” They made serious eye contact for the first time. A shudder went throughout Philippe‟s body as if someone had walked across his grave. “Please stop for a moment and catch your breath.” From one moment to the next her skin went sallow and she looked ready to fall. Nervous that he might have killed her Philippe reached out his arms just in time to catch her falling body. Throwing her quickly over his shoulder, he grabbed her knapsack and continued walking down the road. “How do I always end up like this?” Philippe double timed it back down the road with the girl across his shoulder. This was all his fault. Chapter 8: Maya A normal human being would have taken Ceilo to a hospital. At leas a logical human being may have called a doctor. Unfortunately for her, there was nothing normal or logical about Philippe Lecroix. “You know I would do anything for you Philippe, but dropping off your other girlfriends at my house. This is bad taste even for you don‟t you think?” Normally quite even tempered, Maya stared at the young lady lying on her futon. Her face had regained much of its color. “She‟s not my girlfriend. You brought her to the game that makes her your problem. Besides I can‟t bring her to my place.” Holding up his fingers one at a time, Philippe counted off the reasons why he had chosen to bring her here. “Where does it say on my front door that this is a hospital?” Maya pointed towards the four corners of her lavishly decorated estate on the West End. A child of money she had done nothing except increase her bottom line since the day she was born. “Does she look like she has the money for one of the clinics? What good are they going to do for someone who is dying from cancer?” Until right that moment, Philippe had neglected to tell her the whole truth. “She‟s dying. You brought a dying girl into my home?” Not someone innately maternal, Maya appeared to care very little outwardly for the people surrounding her. There was something about her voice were screamed bitchy aristocrat, and yet it was all just for show. Her heart was gigantic. Hundreds of thousands of her hard earned dollars went to charities every year. She spent almost every weekend on another gala or event to raise money for the people of Honduras. If it were in her power no one would ever go hungry and no one would ever be in pain. To listen to her talk in her everyday business conversations no one would know this about her. Almost every lucrative businesses and real estate purchase on Roatan filtered through her one of holding companies. As a single business woman living in a machismo dominated society, she was forced to be hard and often cruel in her everyday life. Those people would not even recognize her sitting there on the coach, running her long manicured finger nails through Ceilo‟s shiny black hair. “I‟ll watch her.” Once it was determined that she was not part of the Philippe competition, Ceilo took on the wounded puppy syndrome. “I will collect her when I get back from work. Until then you might want to call Anthony‟s key and let them know she is here. Knowing Julito he will have the police looking for her if she does not return for her scheduled badminton class.” Julito was a man of class and honor. He was also a top notch manager. Everything that happened at his hotel and everything that happened on the island he knew about. If this woman had cancer and did not show up for dinner, he would want to know why “I‟ll take care of it. Go.” Without addressing Philippe, Maya continued to stroke the young lady‟s hair. Her beautiful, but often stern face, lightened gently. A small almost unperceivable smile formed on her face. In between two-dozen cell phone calls, Maya checked up on her new friend. Each time she seemed to notice more and more color returning to her cheeks. It was close to four o‟clock when the girl stirred to consciousness. “Where am I?” The last thing Ceilo remembered was having severe trouble breathing and then everything went black. Sadly this happened a lot these days. This was the reason her mother didn‟t think she should go to Honduras alone even if she claimed it was do to the men. Her parents did not even allow her to shower anymore without warning them she was going in. For an hour one afternoon she lay in the tub with water pouring over her. If her mother had not returned home for her purse, she most certainly would have drowned. “You‟re in my house.” Maya‟s hand was instantly against her forehead checking her temperature. “How did I get here?” This was just another in a string of strange places Ceilo had woken up in over the past five years. This one was weirder than usual. Besides the time she ended up in the back of taxi in Milan, this was perhaps the most bizarre. “How do you think?” She pointed toward a portrait on the wall. The body and face were unmistakably those of Philippe Lecroix “Would you like some water? Do you need some of your medicine?” Normally Maya would not dream of entering a fellow woman‟s purse, but given the situation she felt it necessary. Maya lined up her various bottles on the coffee table. “How can you spent time with someone who is so obnoxious and arrogant.” Sitting up slowly Ceilo tried to focus on the various bottles. It took her a few seconds to remember exactly which one to take after a fainting spell. “He‟s hot! That makes all the difference.” For a second they stared at each other. Finally both women were able to giggle. “Are you his girlfriend?” For several hours Maya balanced phone calls and girl talk with Ceilo. Most of the questions being asked were from her. This particular one caught her a bit off guard. “As much as one can be I guess. Geese mate for life. Philippe would never be mistaken for a gander. Dogs on the other hand mate with whatever bitch comes into heat. I am just one in a really long and twisted line of bitches.” Maya‟s frank and candid style of conversation was very new for Ceilo. Things like this were not said in her household. They were not said anywhere in her town for that matter. “Then why do you go back to him?” Still virginal in both her thinking and her life, Ceilo could not comprehend this kind of dating scenario. ”Go back to him?” Laughing so loudly she nearly shook all the windows in the room, Maya picked up and bottle of wine and cracked open the cork, in one fell swoop. “My dear Ceilo I never go back to him. He always comes to me.” Quite proud of the fact that she had never chased a man in all her thirty-three years, Maya shook her finger in between sips of red wine. “Okay then, why do you let him back?” Her mother and father had one lover each. Her brother had one lover and that was the mother of his children. This was the type of relationship she understood. In two years at the University, she saw some of the type of behavior she was discussing now, and it never made sense to her. “Why not? Phillipe can be a great deal of fun.” Raising her eyebrows and swirling her wine, she danced a bit a couple of steps in the center of the open room. “As long as you understand little Ceilo that most men are just toys to be used when you want to play then you will be happier woman. I say don‟t try to change them. Let them be boys for as long as they can be.” On a roll, she pranced from corner to corner of the humungous open living room. “Don‟t look at me like that dear. I want love as much as the next woman; the big church wedding with all the flowers and dancing for hundreds. Right now though I am missing one important piece to this dream. I am missing a man to be groom. All I have are dozens of boys to be toys. Why should I be lonely while I search?” Never looking at Ceilo she continued to dance as she spoke. Even when she told her not to look at her like that, Maya was not looking at her at all. She merely knew that Ceilo was staring. “I have never met a woman like you before Maya.” Outside huge bay windows the sun was diving for the horizon, and Ceilo never missed a sunset. “As the sun sets on another day I drink a toast to it‟s return. Praise them both equally as there can not be a beginning without an end.” Not taking into account her present company Ceilo recited an old Payan toast that her grandmother had taught her as a child. “Wait until you see your sun set coming, and see if you feel the same way.” Popping three of her evening pills, Ceilo chased them down with a large gulp of water. “I‟m sorry honey I didn‟t mean it like that.” Opening her mouth to insert her foot was a constant battle for Maya. The taste was toes were growing old. “Don‟t worry I am far from bitter about my fate. I relish the days I have here. Which is why I really would like to do that dive. I know it sounds stupid almost trivial but it is important to me. Don‟t ask me why because I can‟t even explain it to myself.” The more Ceilo talked about her dream the stupider the concept of it became. What was she thinking? “I have never lived a dream before. I have never even tried to. Don‟t play light on your accomplishment to even get this far. If you are to die tomorrow think of what you can tell them at the pearly gates.” Half a bottle of red wine had flowed passed her tongue, and Maya reached this time instead for a carafe of sparkling water. “Let‟s go. We have a somewhere to be.” It was less than fifteen minutes until sun set, and they had somewhere to be. “Where are we going?” They had been so relaxed almost forgetting the time, and now Maya looked motivated. “To live a dream.” Maya was no longer driving to show off. Instead she had a plan and continued to press the envelope on her scooter. Several times cruising down the sandy back roads, Ceilo thought they might spin out and crash. At every possible accident, Maya pulled them back out and sped on ever faster. They had just past the dive shop where the dominos game had been going on earlier and were now going towards the “whore house” Phillipe had talked about. Disappearing deeper and deeper into thick forest in the dying light, Ceilo was apprehensive. About to tap her driver on the shoulder, she was reassured by the sight of orange light up ahead of them. An opening in the trees revealed a small house twenty or so paces from the ocean. A young man sat on a bench in the backyard. The scooter came to a screeching halt several yards in front of him. “Go little Ceilo. Live your dream.” Leaning back she kissed Ceilo on both her cheeks. Then pointed her towards the house. “Whose house is this?” Even as she asked the question, Ceilo feared that she knew the answer already. “Go ask him again. He won‟t say no this time.” Before Ceilo could protest, Maya turned the moped around and motored away. She left her there. Never had she seen such sunsets. It was as if the entire sky were on fire and the ocean reflected the magnificence back up doubling the pleasure. Approaching the man on the bench she stopped dead in her tracks. On the lawn in front of him were at least a dozen large reptiles one of them nearly seven feet in length. Frozen in place Ceilo contemplated her escape. „They won‟t hurt you. Come on over here. If you made it this far why stop now?” Philippe blew several smoke rings into the air, winked at her, and motioned her towards the house. Chapter 9: El Blanco Haitiano “Are those iguanas?” Ceilo knew the answer already and was merely wanted some reassurance from Phillipe that she was not in danger. “This is my family. The big one over there is Jean Marc the father. Pierre with dark gray beard is the brother. Michelle with the extra black bands on her tail is the mother. All the rest are cousins. Their names escape me right now. These days I have too many to remember.” Every few seconds something flew from his hands and landed next to one of the large green beasts. Their ancient primitive mouths reached out to grab it and swallow it whole. Still not convinced that this was a good idea she tip toed passed them to behind the bench on which Phillipe was sitting. “What are you feeding them?” They were small pinkish fuzzy things in his lap that Ceilo did not recognize. “Hibiscus flowers. They eat them all the time when they fall of the bushes.” Pointing towards a large grove of trees covered in these fuzzy pink things, Phillipe threw two towards Jean Marc. He gobbled them up appreciatively and bobbed his head up and down. “Honestly the iguana is the garbage disposal unit of Honduras. They will eat just about anything you throw at them.” Philippe took one long sip from the green plastic tumbler in front of him, and then turned his eyes towards the sky. “Ten minutes of silence please.” Standing up slowly, Phillip spun around and took her hand. Holding his index finger up to his lips to suggest quiet, he walked her out towards the beach. His hands were strong and powerful and yet the palms of them were soft to the touch. Acting for just a moment like a gentlemen, Philippe led her towards the shore, his eyes never left the horizon. There were no seats next to sand only a single hammock. Not sure whether to sit or lay down in the rope hammock, Ceilo bounced around nervously. What would she do if he sat down or God forbid laid down next to her? Her fears were squashed when he sat on the beach and lit up a cigarette. Taking several loud gulps from the green tumbler, he poured the last few ounces onto the sand. A larger than usual wave swept up the almost clear liquid and pulled it out to sea. Then he did something she never would have expected. Making the sign of the cross on his chest, he put his hands together to pray. For several seconds rested there silently with his head bowed towards the ocean. Finally looking up at almost the exact moment that the sun waved its final goodbye and vanished leaving only a pinkish orange clouds behind to signal its retreat. “What brings you our here this evening?” Phillipe spoke. His words were directed towards Jean Marc and Pierre who had followed them towards the water. “Watching the sun set are you?” Picking up the much smaller Pierre he turned back to walk back up towards the house. Still in shock at what she had just witnessed Ceilo couldn‟t bring herself to speak. “Are you going to stay out here a few more minutes or would you like to come up to the house and talk?” With the large reptile lying almost limp in his arms he turned to face her and waited for an answer. “I‟ll be up in minute if that is okay?” Her words and voice sounded tired against the rolling waves. “Suit yourself.” Trailing absently behind him was Jean Marc, who was insistent on keeping tabs on his sibling. Several seconds after he left, Ceilo looked out to the sea blessed herself and spoke her own prayer. “Watch over mama and papa and the rest of my family. Send my love to them in the night. Bring peace and love to the world. If you have one extra minute I would appreciate it if you could grant me my dream. Thank you for listening.” As she blessed herself again a pod of wild dolphins surfaced in front of her. They frolicked about on the surface for a moment or two and disappeared beneath the darkening waves. “They seem to love it out here.” The voice from out of nowhere scared Ceilo causing her to fall from the hammock. After laughing quietly for a second two Phillipe helped her up off the ground, and dusted the sand gently from her back and legs. The feel of his hands on her bare thighs sent a hot shiver up her spine. “Sorry I did not mean to startle you. I was just saying that the dolphins seem to love it out here on the West End. Especially around sunset they always find their way.” Handing her a blue plastic tumbler he took another gulp from his refilled glass. “I don‟t drink thank you.” Having seen him go through two glasses quickly she was nervous about Christian had said. “Not even lemonade? That is what I am drinking so you know. I have a lemon tree on the north side of the house. I make it fresh.” Sitting down on the hammock now, he gestured for her to join him. There was a very innocent look in his eyes that told her that all her virtues were safe tonight. “Why do they congregate here?” Taking a long sip of the drink she smacked her lips at the bitterness only to feel the sugar grainy on her tongue. It tasted different than anything she had ever sampled. “Its cane sugar. Not very popular in Italy I would imagine.” Watching the various sensations of sweet and sour strike her at once, he moved of the granules between his index finger and thumb. “They feed at the edge of the underwater walls which start only a couple hundred yards west of here.” Pointing towards the sea he settled back into the hammock. The right side of his body rested against her not that he seemed the least bit fazed by it. “Are you scuba diving teacher than?” Trying to take her mind off the warmth of his body against her, Ceilo wanted to talk about anything that came to mind. “Amongst other things.” His grin was devilish but not leering. “Why did you tell me there was nothing up the road but a house of prostitution before?” His earlier words returned to her and she asked the question before filtering her thoughts. “Not too many years ago, that was what this house was used for. I purchased it when the government raided the establishment. Too many of the Honduran sailors were testing positive for gonorrhea, so they pulled in all of the previous residents and reassigned them to other positions in the government.” With a wink and an even more devilish grin, he sucked on an ice cube quite skillfully moving it around with his tongue. ”You didn‟t really answer my question?” Finally turning to look him in the eye, Ceilo could barely draw a breath. In the last moments of darkness he looked even more beautiful then that first glance across the Villa Del Sol. “Why did you come back here tonight?” Bedding women, especially tourists was easy for Philippe. With all the cruise ships and scuba divers he was never at a loss for female companionship. There was something different about him though tonight. The thought of taking this woman in his arms and making love to her petrified him. Perhaps it was the fact that she was dying, but he doubted it. There was a fire, a fire somewhere behind those soft brown eyes that had him frozen in ice. He could scarcely allow himself the pleasure of gazing upon her. “I came back to ask you one last time to take me diving with the dolphins.” Their faces moved closer and closer to one another so that they were only inches apart. They whispered to each other as if their voices might frighten the other away. “Meet me here tomorrow at noon.” Shaking the stars out of his head ever so gently he stood up slowly stroking the side of her cheek as he moved. ”Forgive me for being rude again, but I must go to work.” He helped her to her feet, and pointed back towards the house As they approached it a large SUV slid up the driveway. Jumping from the driver side door was another in a long line of stunning island women. “Angelina can we give my new student a ride?” Although the look he received was less than agreeable, she nodded reluctantly and pointed towards the back seat. There were no words exchanged between the two in the front as they sped down the only paved road. Without asking the woman pulled into the Anthony‟s Key resort and stopped at the dock. Phillipe leaned over and kissed her on both cheeks and then hopped out. “Thank you for the ride.” Trying her best to be polite, Ceilo smiled at the driver who returned the attempt with a nasty scowl. She spun her tires spitting rocks up in the air as she drove away. “I don‟t think she liked me much.” Turning to Phillipe, she had to fight back a grin. “Believe me, she likes you far better than she does me right now.” Two of the ferry pilots and one of the room stewards walked up to Phillipe and spoke simultaneously. “El Blanco Haitiano.” They exchanged several words with one another in what sounded like a broken form of Spanish, then escorted he and Ceilo onto the ferry. “You do not need to see me back to my hotel. I do not want you to be late for work.” Wondering why Phillipe was following her now, she was a bit perplexed by him continuing to go along with her. “This is where I am working tonight.” The two boatman chuckled amongst each other and spoke a few more of the strange words. “El Blanco Haitiano!” “At the resort? You teach scuba diving at night?” Thoroughly disoriented, she wondered if she had missed something in the earlier conversation. “I told you teaching diving is only one of my endeavors.” As the ferry pulled up to the dock, Phillipe held his hand and helped her out. “I don‟t understand. Do you clean rooms or something?‟ This time her words were met with full on laughter from the two men. “Or something?” One of them smiled and pointed towards him. “El Blanco Haitiano Amore!” The second man yelled this again. “If you really want to answer that question come to the Frangipani Bar in an hour. Then you will understand.” Once she was on the dock he got back on the ferry. ”Thank you.” Barely getting the words out, the ferry sped back across the water. Walking into her bathroom, she looked at the state of herself in the mirror. What a mess she was covered in dirt without a spot of make up on. “An hour?” It would take her at least that just to look presentable, and she wanted to look oh so much better than that. Chapter 9: Julito Although continuously complimented for her beauty, Ceilo was very seldom the object for physical desire. Therefore to hear a couple of young men whistling at her as she approached the Frangipani bar lifted her spirits. Her intention was to look sexy tonight, and it appeared to be working. A thickly crocheted cream halter top sans bra and a hip hugging flower printed sarong turned the heads of several locals and tourists alike. Still if she expected to steal the show, she was quickly upstaged. “Thank you for coming here this evening ladies and gentlemen my name is Phillipe Lacroix and I hope you enjoy the music.” Sitting on stage surrounded by several members of a steel drum and brass band was Phillipe. In his hands he held a six string acoustic guitar that he was just gently strumming. “This first tune comes to us from an island to the north.” Several people must have recognized the joke and the tune because they started clapping and singing along. Don’t worry about a thing Cause everything is gonna be alright Saying don’t worry about a thing Cause every little thing is gonna be alright Rise up this morning smile at the rising sun Three little birds sit by my doorstep Singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true Singing this is my message to you who who As Phillipe began the chorus again, Ceilo wondered if this song was not in deed dedicated to her. Most young ladies would have been thoroughly enamored by his ability to sing and play guitar, but not Ceilo. In fact she felt almost betrayed that he had held something back from her. No wonder all the bartenders knew his name. He played music at all the bars. As several tourists gathered on the dance floor, she took a seat the tiki bar and partook in a non-alcoholic umbrella drink. “Put her drink on my tab Patrick.” Turning around as if to say no thank you, she spotted Christian at the other end of the long bamboo railing. “Hello there.” The scuba instructor did not give her a chance to stand up, he was already by her side. They talked about how her day had gone finding Phillipe and the tale about Maya and the iguanas. Strangely not once did Christian look even the slightest bit surprised by any of it, except for a bit of concern we she tried to recall the fainting episode. Looking down at the way she was dressed and remembering the first time he saw her, he bit his lip as he spoke a couple of seemingly well-rehearsed words of wisdom. “I probably should have warned you about him. In the water you can trust him implicitly. Anywhere outside of it, watch yourself.” Nodding his head towards the stage, Phillipe was presently being fondled by three college age girls. Several of the patrons were hooting and hollering. Looking not the least bit concerned or excited, he started into another song. Bad girls bad girls What you gonna do What you gonna do when they come for you. To this tune ever person broke into fits of hysterical laughter. The band joined in and they finished the song together. “That boy get more ass than a donkey farmer.” Although the two bartenders were trying their best to be discreet, Ceilo heard every word that Patrick tried to whisper. Translating English into Italian in her head it took a moment or two for her to register what the meaning of his expression was. Then looking back up at the stage there was not doubt of their sincerity. Currently Phillipe was drinking a shot of tequila from the cleavage of one of the college students. Christian slammed back the last couple of ounces from his one beer. The look in Ceilo‟s eyes said it all. He had made a mistake introducing her to Phillipe. Chances were very high that his mistake would end in heartbreak. “If you want someone to take you diving see me at five tomorrow night out front? Only you can‟t tell anyone that I am doing it or I could lose my job.” Leaning in very close so no one else could hear him, Christian made the offer he should have the day before. A small grin formed in the corners of her mouth. Turning to look at the red faced Christian, she winked and said. “Thank you but I‟ll stick this one out.” After a break in between songs, the now familiar voice began to crone behind her. “I‟m not usually big on dedications but just this once I will make an exception. This next tune is for a young lady who has recently been given a spot of bad news. Here‟s hoping all the nay Sayers are wrong.” This time none of the other members of the band starting playing. Even the spot light moved onto Phillipe alone. When you’re down and troubled And you need a helping hand And nothing whoa nothing is going right Close your eyes and think of me And soon I will be there. To brighten up even your darkest nights You just call out my name And you know wherever I am I’ll come running oh yeah baby To see you again. Winter Spring Summer or Fall All you have to do is call And I’ll be there Yes I will You’ve got a friend. Even if she had considered diving with Christian the next day, the thought was completely gone from her mind now. Ceilo recognized the James Taylor tune almost immediately from her parent‟s record collection. All of the swooning women parted in the crowd when they realized the tune was not for them. Across the dance floor to the bar Philippe‟s eyes appeared to be focusing on Ceilo though she knew he couldn‟t possibly see her with the spot light in his face. He couldn‟t possibly know she was there. “Well if you change your mind I‟ll be on the dock tomorrow at five.” Shaking his head Christian knew he had been ousted by the power that is Philippe/. The dive instructor walked towards the ferry dock. Ceilo did not even appear to notice. “Thank you all. We are going to take a short break and be right back so stay cool.” Accentuating his accent and his deep voice, Phillipe watched as several ladies fanned and whispered amongst themselves. Like moths to the flame, three of them mobbed him as he left the stage and walked for the bar. They were out of luck though because his eyes truly were focused on Ceilo. “What‟s the occasion?” Patrick had already set out a glass for him, which he picked up and slammed back without hesitation. “You mean this old thing?” Having watched American movies since birth, Ceilo remembered this line from several of them. “That‟s cute.” Nodding towards the bartender his glass was refilled, and this one he sipped slowly. “Tell me something. What did Christian want with you?” Again playing the game with the ice and his tongue that he had played either, Phillipe sat down next to her. Two of the girls looking defeated walked back towards the dance floor. The other one attempted to look busy biding her time until he stepped away. “That boy get more ass than a donkey farmer.” Trying to imitate the accent of the Patrick behind her, Ceilo spoke without hesitation. “Christian said that?” Philippe squealed raising his eyebrows so high they threatened to leave his face. Just then his phone rang pulling him back from the conversation. A few words were exchanged and he returned with more ire than before. “Sorry that was the governor calling again. I‟m serious though, what did Christian have to say to you?” Looking nervous as though some great secret might be revealed, Phillipe pushed her for a real answer. “Christian offered to help me out with a problem I had been having. I declined already having found someone to assist me.” Her eyes focused on a very embarrassed looking bartender, who quickly darted to the other side to avoid attention since he had been the one who made the donkey comment. “Really? I‟m surprised. He‟s not usually one to break the rules.” Nodding his head towards someone who was approaching, they turned to face Julito. “Good evening Miss Bella. Might I say you look quite lovely this evening?” Holding out his hand he took hers and kissed the top of it quite formally. “Thank you sir, that is quite kind.” These kind of responses were drilled into her brain over and over again in English class. Though not part of American vernacular they still struck a chord with the English as a second language crowd. “I was very sorry to hear that you were not able to take the scuba diving course. I wanted to let you know that you will be receiving a credit on your house account, as well as a free dolphin encounter. Again I am very sorry we could not accommodate your request.” Not once did he blink an eye away from Phillipe. Something in the stare the two men shared spoke volumes though no words accompanied the look.. “That is quite all right. Thank you for your kind gesture. I am quite sure my father will appreciate it.” Leaning forward she kissed the man gently on both cheeks and then settled back to her foo foo drink. “Patrick please get Miss Bella another Teenage Passion Punch on the house.” Julito smiled at her and then turned to Phillipe cordially nodding his head. “Phew I am going to pay for this one later.” He grumbled under his breath. “I think that was my cue to return to servitude.” Trying his best to show off, Phillipe leaned in and kissed the top of each one of her hands. Neither of them could hold back a giggle. As he walked back up on stage, Patrick handed her the second drink. “I am sorry if we offended you miss.” Both bartenders were standing next to each other right in front of her. “Offended me? Gentlemen you have not even begun to offend me.” Pulling out the umbrella and curly straw Ceilo chugged back some of the guava pineapple concoction. “Yes miss.” It was their turn to laugh now. For another two hours she stayed at the lounge and listened to Phillipe as he serenaded Anthony‟s Key, and several tourists from all over Roatan. At the end of the set, he had one final dedication. “One last tune. I give you the words of a man who needs not introduction.” The steel pan players started and the band joined in. After thirty seconds or so of introduction, he began to sing. Could you be loved Then be loved Could you be loved Then be loved Don’t let them fool ya Or even try to school ya. Oh No! We’ve got a mind of our own so go to hell if what you’re thinking is not right Love would never leave us alone A-yin the darkness that must come out to light Could you be loved Then be loved “I know this is naïve of me, but I know nothing of reggae. Who is it that he keeps referring to?” Even several of the tourists shook their head at her question. Patrick reached behind the bar, and handed her a CD case. On the front was a man with large dreadlocks smoking a rather fat cigarette. “Bob Marley. Oh so that is who Bob Marley is?” Several people ducked their heads in shame at what she had said. “Take it back to your room and listen to the whole album at least three times in row. Listen to all of the words. If you don‟t understand some of them, read the page inside. Then I guarantee you will never ask me again who is this?” Patrick‟s voice seemed a bit harsh and if not for the pleasant grin on his face she would think he was offended by her. “I will go home right now and it do that Patrick. Thank you.” Saying her goodbyes to several of the people around her and the bartenders, Ceilo began the walk back towards the dock. It had not been her intention to leave without saying good night to Phillipe nor was she trying in anyway to be coy. However, as she strolled casually up the path towards her bungalow a voice came from the darkness. “I will see you tomorrow at twelve then?” How he had gotten across the water to the island, she was not sure? How he had snuck up on her without her hearing him she was not sure? The warm feeling that formed in the center of her chest was all Ceilo was really sure of. “I‟ll be there.” Never turning to face the voice in the darkness, Ceilo walked the last few paces to her room supported by the air beneath her feet. Even as she swallowed the pills that kept her barely alive, she had a sense of promise in her life. Tomorrow could be the day she realized all her dreams. As Bob Marley sang her gently to sleep she repeated the words over and over again in her head. Could you be loved Then be loved Chapter 10: Teri As soon as Ceilo awoke in the morning she called her family. They were disappointed to hear about the class, but were happy that she made alternate plans to dive elsewhere. It was not really a lie she kept telling herself over and over again through breakfast. At ten thirty a.m. there was a dolphin show going on, and she was the first in line for the extravaganza. A young lady named Teri met her at the gate. Apparently Julito had told her of Miss Bella‟s fascination with dolphins. Without breaking the rules too badly, the head trainer took her behind the scenes. “Poco and Nona this is Ceilo say hi.” Both of the majestic creatures lifted their fins out of the water and waved at her. Several small fish fell over the edge into their mouths. Teri blew a thin metal whistle though no audible sound seemed to come out. “Which one is which? Do we have to turn them over to distinguish the boys from the girls?” Giggling in spite of herself, Ceilo looked at the two shimmering creatures. “Poco is the bigger one as most full grown male dolphins are. If they roll over though..” With a hand gesture both creatures turned on their backs. “See their belly near the tail. Male dolphins have two slits and female dolphins have one. Honestly though, I can tell who they are just by looking at their dorsal fins.” After giving them a fish or two they disappeared underwater and then resurfaced up about twenty yards away. “Every dolphin‟s dorsal fin is unique. See how the tip of Poco‟s fin is whitish almost pink while Nona is very rounded and dark gray?” To listen to the trainer speak with such conviction and pride in her voice, Ceilo could just sense the love she had for these animals. Much like Phillipe the other night when talking about the iguanas she could hear that Teri really considered them to be like family members. “How long have you been doing this for a living?” It was too late in her life to start this career, but Ceilo was constantly curious. “I have been here fourteen years and training for almost twenty now.” Sliding up on her belly on the dock Nona looked like she wanted a hug. “Wow.” That was an awful long time to be at the same job. “I hate to say it but the show is going to start in a minute. You may want to go get a seat.” Several people were in the amphitheatre already, and Teri could see the green eye of jealousy rearing its ugly head amongst them. “Next time you come here you should take the dolphin trainer program. A whole week of morning, noon, and night dolphin mania.” Her enthusiasm was overwhelming, and Ceilo wanted to be able to say. “Sure I‟ll book a trip right now.” Only she knew better. Nodding and smiling, she thanked Teri and went to her seat. Half the show was spent discussing dolphins and what they ate. The other half was jumps and spins. Throughout it all Ceilo was mesmerized. Now that she knew what to look for she could easily tell the two dolphins apart. By the time the show ended at eleven she was running back to her room to get ready. “Today I am going to dive with a dolphin.” Too eager and completely unprepared for the day ahead, she packed medicine and sunscreen then went on her way. At the ferry dock she got a fantastic surprise. “Hey chica are you ready to play?” Maya was waiting for her with the scooter. Today she took her sweet time getting to Philippe‟s house. She stopped briefly a couple of times to point out the governor‟s house, and a beautiful church whose original foundation could be traced back to Christopher Columbus‟s first voyage to the Bay Islands in 1502. When they got the beach, Ceilo was surprised to see no equipment set up. Phillipe was sitting there in a bathing suit long enough to almost trip over. When he kissed Maya, a short stabbing pain dug like a bur in her side. “Can you swim?” If the dress from the night before left anything to the imagination, the bathing suit from today exposed it. Considering how ill Ceilo was, he could not imagine what her figure had looked like before the cancer. The Brazilian cut bathing suit covered very little and was totally impractical for scuba diving. “Define swim?” Until then this thought had completely skipped out of her mind. Not wanting to piss him off or scare him completely she played light on the situation. “I‟ll take that as a no. Well than today we will swim, tomorrow snorkel, and then Thursday dive, and Friday if you do real well, you can visit a dolphin.” The look of disappointment in her eyes could not easily be masked. Her shoulders slumped forward showing her rather healthy chest off with more definition then before. Trying his best to focus on her face, Phillipe kept catching himself looking down. “Come now did you really expect to throw a tank on and just jump in?” Once again her eyes gave away the rub. That was exactly what she had expected. “I don‟t know what Christian told you, but I am neither a recluse nor an idiot. When I take someone diving I want to make sure they are safe and sound. Yes I have a propensity to break several other rules, but on these I am stringent.” Reaching out his hand to her he nodded his head out towards the ocean. “First order of business is protection.” Reaching into his pocket he came back with a bottle of sunscreen. “Cover yourself from head to two with this. The sun out here can be brutal on your nice ivory white Italian skin.” Turning his head as she began lathering herself he only spun around in time to see her struggling with her back. With hand gestures only he got her to turn around and rubbed the rest of the white gelatinous goo in. “All right then let‟s go play.” Her apprehension did not appear to be to the water itself and this encouraged Phillipe. Most people who could not swim were deathly afraid of the water. They seemed to equate it with not breathing and not breathing with drowning. Ceilo was not like that. She relished this opportunity and jumped right in. Once they were waist deep Phillipe put his hand in the small of her back. “This is going to take some trust now on your part.” Nearly jumping at the first touch from his hand on her bare skin, Ceilo giggled like a school girl. “All I want you to do is lean back and nothing more. Don‟t kick your feet or wave your arms about. Just lean back.” Without hesitation she did just as he asked. His hand never leaving her lower back Phillipe kept the entire upper half of her body out of water letting her feet and legs sink in. Ever so slowly her lowered her until she was nearly floating face up. “Okay now arch your back for me.” Not sure when a language barrier might impede his teachings he was happy when she did as he asked. “Take a very deep breath and hold it in.” Moving his hand away slowly he watched as she floated all alone on the surface. “Remember if you ever get in trouble swimming whether you are tired or scared you can always do this.” Then reaching under her back again he supported her. “Okay breath out.” A loud exhalation from her sounded almost like the dolphins when they came to the surface after a long dive. Her lips sputtered water enough to make him chuckle a bit. “Great. Now I want you to flip over and lets try it the other way.” This time his hand was on her belly. Shaking her head slowly at him she did not lean forward. “That hurts a bit.” Biting at her lip she took his hand away from her stomach. “Sorry.” Tempted to ask her why it hurt, Phillipe decided if she wanted to tell him she would. His mind raced for another way to do this. “The disease is everywhere, but for some reason it really hurts in here.” Pointing towards her abdomen, Ceilo looked almost ashamed of herself. “Why don‟t we go a little shallower here?” Walking her back until they were almost ankle deep in the clear turquoise ocean, he had developed another lesson plan. “Okay both of us get down on our knees like we are ready for confession.” His smirk reminded her of his prayer the night before on the beach. Was he Catholic? “Now shuffle on your knees like this.” Looking like a very awkward seal on the shore, they moved themselves deeper into the water on their knee caps. “When the water gets up to here on your neck stop.” Tickling at her neck gently he received the most amazing smile he had seen from her yet. This was fun for her. For the first time since he met her, Ceilo genuinely looked to be having a good time. “Now both of us are going to put our faces in the water and hold our breaths. Close your eyes and pinch your nose like this. Then face in. Okay on three. One two three.” Imitating everything he did including counting down on her fingers she dunked her head down into the water. After a good fifteen seconds Ceilo felt a hand under her chin and she lifted right back up. “Good. Now I want you to do the same thing. Only this time take a gigantic deep breath and push up off the bottom with your knees. On three.” This time before he could start the countdown she did it for him. “Uno… Dos… Tres.” They floated effortlessly on the surface for several seconds. When they surfaced this time her smile was beaming brightly again. “Good you are getting this just fine. Okay stand up.” Moving quickly he went over to his beach chair and returned with two sets of swimming goggles and what looked like two sets of clothespins. “This little device fits over your nose. It will keep the water out. Plus it gets you to start breathing out of your mouth. One of the keys to scuba diving is learning to breath out of your mouth only.” Clipping the strange rubber device to her nose he squeezed playfully. “These are your goggles. They go nicely over your eyes and fasten behind your head.” Putting them on and adjusting the straps, Phillipe grinned down at her. “Now that you look absolutely ridiculous. It is time to go swimming.” For the better part of three hours, they splashed around the shallows. Two or three times, Ceilo shrieked with excitement when any fish big or small passed through her viewing area. This was the reason why Phillipe liked teaching diving. Forget the lazy days in the sun or the multitude of half naked women, the truth was he lived to see others enjoy themselves. Almost like a teacher the first time they see the light bulb of understanding flash above a child‟s head, he loved the first recognition of the ocean‟s beauty. “Well, so how did you enjoy your first day out here?” They were waist deep and trudging beach ward when he asked the question. “I could not be happier if I were twins.” Leaning in Ceilo kissed him so hard she nearly knocked him off balance. “I can‟t believe I was so afraid to swim as a child.” Bouncing like a beach ball, she hopped all the way up the beach to her bag. Pulling out her towel she patted herself down. Without thinking, Ceilo unclipped her bathing suit top and threw it in the bag and then reached down to get her tee shirt. Southern Italian beaches did not require the certain modesties that other places demanded. On the beach topless women were no different than topless men. “Swimming is more mental than physical. Unless someone is truly physically disabled they can swim.” They are just breasts. You have seen hundreds of pairs in your lifetime. There is nothing to be embarrassed or to stare at. Feeling stupid, Phillipe could not help the uncomfortable rumbling in his stomach. Maya ran around the island practically naked all the time, so why did this feel different to him? “Sorry. I just don‟t think about it.” Cautiously covering herself and putting on the tee shirt at the same time was proving more difficult than just doing the later. “Don‟t worry about it there is nothing I haven‟t seen before.” Although he said this once out loud, in his head Phillipe said it over and over again as if trying to convince himself. “That‟s really tiring isn‟t it?” With her shirt barely to her chin, Ceilo started feeling dizzy. Then without warning a sharp pain much deeper than the previous ones struck her whole midsection at once. It was powerful enough for her to scream out. Ceilo was going down, immediately Phillipe dove a football receiver going for an end zone pass, he laid out on the ground and caught her. Her tee shirt tumbled back to the sand. A frightening realization finally hit him as her eyes began to disappear up into her eyelids. This young lady really was dying, and he was watching the progression. Death had never scared him before. Unlike most people he sort of assumed and understood that we live and we die. It is a natural progression that no one and nothing can stop. To watch it first hand though brought about a new revelation. He didn‟t want to die not today not forty years from now. There was a full minute of panic in his heart until Ceilo began coming around again. It was not fear he saw in her eyes though. She looked embarrassed. “I‟m a real fun date huh?” Closing her eyes again as another pain struck her hard, Ceilo wished she could think of something else to say. “The best I have had in years.” Stroking her salt water soaked hair with one hand, he wiped away the tears of pain with the other. ”Sorry we keep ending up like this.” Holding his left hand against her cheek, she gripped on tightly with the next wave of spasms. “ A beautiful woman topless in my arms. I could think of worse things to happen to me.” Looking around him for a moment, he could just imagine what someone would think if they saw them now. Joking had helped to quell his fears. Without hesitation he leaned down slowly and kissed her forehead. The fear was returning but it assumed a whole other form. “What was that for?” Her heart was racing uncontrollably. At first, she thought of leaning up to kiss his warm soft lips, but another pain held her back. “I think we are going to have to stop the scuba lessons.” Why had he kissed her? Wanting to physically whip himself, he tried to change the subject. “Please no. I‟m dying Phillipe. Nothing is going to change that. What harm is it going to do?” Squeezing his hand even tighter than before, Ceilo wanted to hear him say that he would not give up on her lessons. “To you? No harm at all.” Phillipe was thinking of his own well being now. Watching her deteriorate before his eyes was not something he could bear to do. “Be strong for me. Please I need you to be strong. It takes all my strength to keep breathing. Don‟t give up on my dream.” His eyes were glistening over and any chance Ceilo had of keeping her heart safe from him was evaporating. She had never been in love never even felt the slightest pang of infatuation and now its effects were crashing down on her like a freight train. “You should go to hospital.” Helping her back to her feet, Phillipe pracitcally carried her to the front porch. There he held her tighter than usual in his arms trying to cover her bare chest like an overly protective sibling. “Why?” Burying her face in his arm she tried to hide the anguish ripping her from the inside out. “Could you get me my bag?” Someone was driving up the long driveway. Still dizzy and confused she could not make out the vehicle. “I‟ll be right back.” Normally a slow moving person, Phillipe ran down to the beach as though whatever was in that bag would save her. “Am I interrupting something?” Maya approached the half naked Ceilo with astonished anger. It was not until she was a foot or two that she realized what was going on. “Jesus are you okay?” Dropping to her knees Maya took her hand. Running up to them was Phillipe. His eyes went from Maya to Ceilo then back to the tee shirt in his own hands. What was his friend thinking? It wasn‟t like he ever had to answer to Maya before. They had a casual and certainly not an exclusive relationship. Phillipe was more nervous about what she thought she saw. “We have to take her to the hospital.” No longer concerned by the predicament, Maya was scared for Ceilo‟s life. “No thank you.” Reaching up weakly for her purse, Ceilo emptied several bottles onto her belly. A couple of them rolled onto the sand. “I can‟t see them. Please get me the one with a capital red L on the cap.” Everything was going into and out of focus around her. Try as she may she could not shake out the cobwebs. “Here it looks like the scarlet letter.” Pulling the bottle up off the ground, Phillipe was trying to read the tiny labels. “Lioresol?” A nod was the only answer he got as her face contorted abnormally. “How many?” Opening the bottle, he drew three just as he held up two fingers. “I need the red V as well.” Pills were so easy for her to swallow anymore she didn‟t even need water. A hand was stroking her hair, but she could not tell who it was. “Velcade.” Again it was a nod that answered his questions. One finger was held up. “Now for the really good one it has blue P on it.” Twenty-eight pills was her daily bedtime snack. Certain ones though could be taken at times when the Myeloma was just uncontrollable like now. “Percordane. Maybe I should take a couple of these as well.” Maya had that bottle. Knowing that this was a pain medication she just doled out two without asking. For fifteen minutes they watched Ceilo her expression changing from pain to numbness. Her eye lids grew heavy. “I‟m going to rest now.” Without another word she was out cold. Taking a very deep breath, Phillipe picked her up and carried her towards the house. In all the confusion her shirt had never made it back on her. At this point he did not notice the difference. Getting her to his king size mattress which lay plainly on the floor, he pulled back the sheets. Feeling her wet bathing suit against his stomach he made a decision. It was off and she was between the sheets. For a few seconds he stared down at his temporary roommate and sighed. When he turned around Maya was standing in the doorway. A very peculiar look was on her face. It was somewhere between disappointment and surprise. “You are falling for this one. Do you have any idea how destructive that is?” Running her fingers through her long silky hair, she looked ready to rip it out at the roots. “I‟m not falling for anyone My.” Walking towards the door he was worried that Ceilo might wake up and hear them talking. With the drugs she had just taken, she would be out for several hours, but he could not possibly know this. “I don‟t like to see people in pain. It‟s a helpless feeling knowing you can‟t change a damn thing. That is all this about My.” Stepping out the front door, he already had a cigarette lit before he hit the porch. Lined up across the lawn were a half dozen iguanas. Looking down at his watch he shook his head. “Do you want to know what I like most about you Phillipe?” Putting her hands on his shoulders, she began to massage him slowly. “You don‟t get emotionally involved with anything unattainable. You know the battles you can win and they are the only ones that you bother to fight. That is what I like most about you.” Removing the cigarette from his hands, Maya took a very long drag. “I have to feed the family.” Pulling her hands off his shoulders he walked over to the hibiscus tree and began removing the older blooms. His lawn was alive with reptiles vying for the best feeding positions. “Sweet Phillipe she‟s going to die. No matter what you do.” Her tone was so even keeled and relaxed it was actually getting on his nerves. “And your point?” The most therapeutic part of his day was being ruined with conversation, and he did not like it. “Shall I come back?” Turning her back on him she walked towards the scooter. “I‟m working the Toucan tonight. Meet me there?” Phillipe had a million acquaintances but only one true friend. Alienating her was the last thing he wanted to do. “Enjoy your sunset. Try to remember what I said though. You can‟t help this one. She‟s not a sick dolphin or a parrot with broken wing. Try to think about that okay?” Firmly on her seat, she had just started up the engine. “Thanks My.” Looking up from his feeding frenzy, Phillipe winked at her. Returning the gesture she speed away down the darkening path. Chapter 11: Kevin & Paul Not sure if he should leave Ceilo as she was, Phillipe wrote out a detailed description of where he was and how to reach him. Laying it and her bag of drugs on the nightstand next to his bed, he seriously contemplated canceling his gig for the night. Opening up his wallet though it revealed less than two hundred Lempiras. This fact alone quickly changed his mind. At a rate of six to one to the U.S. dollar this was not nearly enough to survive the rest of the week on. Since he was neglecting his normal daytime businesses to teach Ceilo to dive, his gigs were paying the bills exclusively. Perhaps he should have discussed his fee with her ahead of time. Shaking his head he could not imagine charging her a penny. Hanging out of her purse were at least three hundred U.S. dollars in American Express Traveler‟s checks. A younger stupider Phillipe growing up in Port Au Prince might have taken them. The older one merely tucked the bills back in and rushed towards the front door. Already waiting for him in the driveway was Angelina in the Land Rover. “What no other women to drive around?” Her attempt at humor did not strike him well tonight, and he did not even bother to respond. “Wow someone is in a bad mood?” There was nothing to say, and he sat silently until they pulled up in front of the Toucan. “Yeah I had a bad day.” With a patented smile, he kissed here twice, and all was forgiven. There were at least a hundred people in and out of the bar on this particular evening though Maya was not amongst them. The sounds of commotion and craziness normally spurned him on. Tonight they were merely a part of several annoyances. Members of the band asked him what was wrong. Simply pointing to his head, he continued singing, and tried to fake a smile for the partygoers. “Not your usual happy go lucky self tonight.” The chubby Irish bartender Kevin handed him his pay and lit up a joint. Taking a deep puff, he held the glowing ember out in front of him to share. “No thanks.” Pushing a glass of rum to the side as well , he reached for the pitcher of iced tea instead. Several of the wait staff looked at him sideways, trying to figure out who this person was that had taken over Phillipe Lacroix‟s skin. “Let me guess the Italian chica from yesterday?” Trying to talk with a lung full of smoke Kevin, chuckled and coughed sending a sweet smelling plume into the air. “You ever get tired of this life Kev?” Looking at his watch it was not even midnight yet, and Phillipe was seriously considering going home. “No man, this is freaking nirvana to me.” Alternating between a pitcher of beer and the joint, Kevin was concerned for his best musical attraction. “Is she pregnant or something?” The other bartender Paul started laughing as he spoke. “Nope. She‟s dying of cancer.” Straight faced and not the least bit amused, Phillipe headed for the door with startling speed. “Dude I‟m sorry I didn‟t know.” Although there was a lot of joking playfulness amongst the bartenders and the wait staff, not one of them had a malicious bone in their body. “I know Pauley. I know.” Trying to smile a bit, he walked out into the street. He covered three miles of muddy road to get back home. Normally he would have asked someone for a ride, but he needed the fresh air. When he came to his house no lights were on so he figured Ceilo was asleep. Quietly making his way to the bedroom, he opened the door slowly. Her eyes were wide open and focused in his direction. For a moment until she blinked he was dreadfully aware of his own heartbeat. “How was your show?” Closing the door but not bothering to turn on the lights, Phillipe slid slowly into the bed. “I did not invite you into bed. Something tells me this would be a bad time for you to get rambunctious.” Joking Ceilo felt her heart racing again. Only Phillipe held a single finger up to her lips. Then slipping himself under the covers, he took Ceilo gently in his arms and held her near to him. For several seconds it was quiet, until a barely audible set of sobs grew in the darkness. Crying for one of a million different reasons, Ceilo squeezed him as tightly as her pain would allow. They fell asleep wrapped in each other‟s arms within minutes. Both of them were curiously awaken with the sunrise. Ceilo was coughing uncontrollably. Pointing towards her throat, she tried to mimic to him that she need water. Before she could get a word out, Phillipe had returned with a pitcher from the fridge. “I thought you didn‟t wake up until after noon at least?” Neither of them had stirred once in the night, and Ceilo was still tightly wrapped around him. “If you were just going to bed about now, you would sleep until noon too.” Feeling her warm naked body against him reminded him that he was a man. As though the morning would ever let a male under forty forget it anyway. “What do we do now teacher?” Pulling herself still ever so closer to him, she felt his more than just his warmth as she leaned in. Slightly embarrassed Ceilo adjusted herself around it. Though she‟d never had sex, she knew enough about it. Her friends and younger relatives talked about it a lot. Plus her uncle had cable, she saw a lot more than she expected one Friday night when she snuck a peak into her cousin‟s room. “It‟s Wednesday we go snorkeling.” Sitting himself up in bed, Phillipe tried his best to think about anything other than the warmth of her body against his own. “Thank you.” Kissing the closest part of his body to her face, she struck almost directly on his belly button, then squeezed him tightly at the waist. “I‟ll get your suit off the clothesline. Until then you can throw this on.” Handing her a pair of draw string pants, he pulled off his shirt. With that the phone rang, and he grabbed it quickly. Hoping it was not an ex-friend or something similar he checked the caller ID. “Hello governor Alvarez to what do I owe this pleasure?” There was a lot of yeses and nos mixed in with an occasional we‟ll see, but nothing more. “Sorry about that he is always calling me for political advice.” Trying to get her attention, she was surprised when she just shrugged her shoulders. “First thing I need is a shower.” Not bothering to be even the least bit modest, Phillipe dropped his shorts and walked towards the bathroom. Apparently his nudity did not affect her much either. “Do you mind if I ask you question?” It was the first time Ceilo had ever seen a grown man naked in an intimate setting. Rather than making her nervous it slightly excited her in way she was not familiar with. “Fire away.” Standing sans clothes in the doorway he was too confident in life to be embarrassed. “Where did you get the scar?” Several times since Ceilo had seen him the first day she had been wanting to ask that question. “That‟s a long story for another time.” Raising his eyebrows he disappeared into the tub, and she heard water running almost immediately. Standing there beneath the running water, he kept shaking his head. Getting the image of her lying there on the beach was proving impossible. The thought of her in his bed right now did little to lower his manly hood. At present it could act as the mainsail for a schooner. In the other room Ceilo buried her head in his pillow. Even the smell of cigarette smoke did little to eliminate the excitement in her lower body. “Remember why you are here?” Whispering to herself she tried to focus on the dream again. Seconds before awaking this morning she had come even closer to the dolphin than ever before. Only as she reached for it, the apparition it was turning into something different. The image was familiar but she could not put her finger on it. What made last night different? Why was her dream evolving so much lately? Walking towards the bathroom, she leaned her head against the door. “If I use a calling card, can I use your phone.” Not sure if he could hear her Ceilo yelled loudly. “Go right ahead.” Wondering at first who she was going to call, he did not bother to ask. “Hello mama. How are you?” Though both her parents asked at least a dozen times about her health, she kept avoiding the subject. Instead she talked about swimming and seeing the fish. Then she talked about the goggles and nose piece. “Who is Phillipe?” Her mother sounded more than slightly annoyed. “My instructor.” Where had her mother gotten his name from? “Oh because you keep saying Phillipe this and Phillipe that I was wondering who he was?” Her mother‟s tone of voice said it all. She sensed there was more that her daughter was not telling her about the boy. “Well he is teaching me to swim, and today he‟s going to teach me how to snorkel. Isn‟t that really exciting?” Even in Italian she could not get comfortable talking to her mother about a boy. Not when her mama knew there was something more to it. “I am very happy for you. Be careful though my little Ceilo. Those boys down there have other thoughts on their mind.” Had her daughter lost her flower to this boy already? Would she come home raped and pregnant? Any of a million horrible thoughts went through the mind of an Italian mother the first time her only virginal daughter left home. “Yes mama. I can take care of myself.” If her mother knew she was lying naked in his instructor‟s bed she would literally have had a heart attack. Had her father known, he would have flown down to Roatan and wrung Philippe‟s neck. Dishonesty to her parents was something new for Ceilo and she didn‟t really like it. Being unclothed in the presence of men was also new. Only once before when skinny dipping at a local pool with her cousins and several of their friends had she felt this vulnerable and bare. “I love you both and will see you soon. Ciao.” Hanging up the phone and her head at the same time, she began wondering what in God‟s name was she thinking. “They are worried about you I am sure.” Standing at the foot of the bed in bath towel, Phillipe did not understand a word that had been said, but could tell from the body language that it had not gone well. “Not as much as I am.” Though Ceilo did not say the words aloud, it was exactly what she was thinking. “Try not to use too much water the cistern is low.” Literally giving her the towel off his back side, Phillipe slipped on shorts and a plain white tee shirt. “How do you like your eggs?” Disappearing to the kitchen he did not give her a chance to answer the question. Looking down at her own body Ceilo could not believe how quickly she had developed into an Italian woman from a little girl. Cancer had slowed down the process of maturation which the rest of her classmates seemed to undergo instantaneously around age sixteen. Despite her recent physical maturation, she still felt like that same self- coconscious teenager. How could she be dying? From the outside she looked just fine. Twenty-two pounds heavier from the year before, she looked almost normal now. Even her hair, although spotty in some places, had grown back quite healthy and strong. It just did not add up. “Don‟t waste the day feeling sorry for yourself.” Moving slowly but deliberately towards the bathroom, she was impressed with the cleanliness of the house. There were no towels or plates or clothes littering the floor like most bachelor pads. Even his bathroom was spotless. Except for the lack of towels the nearly hospital white floor to ceiling tiled room was homey. Several large paintings of underwater scenery dominated the empty canvas with splashes of color and grace. Leaning in closely to see who was responsible for these eclectic works of art, she nearly choked. All of them were modestly signed Phillipe Lacroix in the lower right hand corner. “Is there anything you can‟t do?” Wondering these words aloud, she stepped into the drop down shower stall. Lined up on the frosted windowsill were dozens of small hotel bottles of shower gel. shampoo, conditioner, and shaving cream. “Now this is more like a man‟s bathroom.” Sampling several of the fruitier smelling bouquets, Ceilo tried her best to take a quick shower. When she opened the curtain to step out her bathing suit was lying across the sink and etched in the steam filled mirror was a message. Breakfast on the beach. Chapter 12: Wilma Sitting on the hammock and looking out towards the ocean, Phillipe seemed curiously serious. As Ceilo approached, she realized he was straining to listen to a small transistor radio. Spread out on the small bistro table next to him was a plate of eggs and toast with several pieces of fresh fruit cut up next to it. A large pot of hot water steamed on the sand below his feet. “Something important on the news?” Her hand reaching towards her very sore stomach muscles. Hours of painful cramps and convulsions had left her in a nasty state this morning. “Hurricane. A nasty one. In fact, the nastiest one ever on record. It‟s going to move over this way in the next couple of days. The swell will be bad.” Here on the West Shore they had little to worry about with waves coming in from the east. Both the barrier reef and island itself acted like a great big wave shield for them. “Hurricane it was a tropical depression yesterday? Doesn‟t it have to wait a long time before it becomes a nasty hurricane?” Thinking he might be exaggerating the truth, she remembered countless Discovery Channel programs in recent years on hurricanes. Turning up the knob on the English news channel, he let the announcer speak for herself. “Yes I know this seems incredibly hard to believe, but Wilma has grown from a tropical depression to the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin in a little less than eighteen hours. Although Honduras and the outlying islands should not be directly affected by this monstrosity you can expect the outlying effects to blow us around a bit for the next few days. The Yucatan though will not be so lucky. Even though the storm is bound to weaken it could easily be category four when it arrives. Forecasters are worried it could batter the peninsula for thirty six to forty eight hours straight with hundred and fifty mile an hour winds before presumably heading off much weaker towards the US state of Florida.” Turning off the depressing news, Phillipe drew a deep breath. Someone really did not want this girl to live out her dream. Looking up briefly to the sky, he wondered what Ceilo had done to deserve her fate. “Wow, I‟m sorry I doubted you.” Not realizing the significance of this storm on her dream, she sucked on the husk of a guava and looked out towards the ocean. Yesterday it resembled the lakes back home. Today little white caps brushed along the surface. “You won‟t be able to dive on Friday. The visibility will be non-existent.” It was still two days away, but he felt it necessary to tell her the truth “So my dream is gone again?” Sighing deeply and looking destroyed all over again, Ceilo shook her head. “No, we just have to step up the training faster than I wanted to.” Pulling up her chin he looked deeply into those eyes. Oh those eyes were mesmerizing. Large like an owl with long lashes they resembled the color of lightly roasted chestnuts. A strong urge to kiss her began to overwhelm all his other senses. “Why are you looking at me like that?” A tingling sensation stretched all the way down to her toes. A strong urge to kiss him began to overwhelm all of her other senses. They moved towards each other slowly hearts racing and palms sweaty. “There you are!” A loud voice startled the two of them from their trance. “No one saw you come back to the hotel than I talked to Maya this morning and she told me that you had collapsed last night.” Christian had a large thermos full of coffee in his hand as he approached them. “Wow, Philippe what are you doing up so early?” Not recognizing the awkward timing of his approach the gleeful Australian sat down on the beach in front of them. “Must be Wednesday you‟re not working.” Many a Wednesday Christian dropped by to say hello. For some reason he had an affinity for confiding in Phillipe. They were not friends in the traditional sense. Instead they seemed born from the same womb in many ways but one. Christian although very handsome and good hearted had very little luck with the fairer sex. “Did you hear about Wilma already?” Pouring coffee into the thermos cup he took a piece of mango off the plate. “Do you mind if I have some?” Shaking his head slowly, Phillipe understood the reason for the visit was two fold. Christian had feelings for Ceilo, and Maya had asked him to stop by and check up on them. There was a conspiracy ongoing to stop anything that might happen between these two. “The strongest hurricane on record and it came this late in the season who would have figured. That‟s one hell of a blow huh mate.” They both smiled and raised their eyebrows to signal their agreement. “We‟re going to go for a snorkel. You interested?” Looking up towards the driveway Phillipe spotted dive gear and tanks in the back of the Anthony‟s key pick up truck. Christian had this in mind before he came here. “I don‟t want to interfere in your teaching.” Munching on a piece of toast, he covered his mouth to hide the food. “Conditions are going down hill fast. You might not get out for a few days. We would appreciate the company.” Never being more sarcastic in all his life, Phillipe was sure that the Aussie would not get the point. “Well then I will have to get my gear.” Walking back towards the truck, he turned back to face them at least three times to see if he missed anything. “To be continued?” Leaning over to clean up the dishes Phillipe whispered gently in her ear. The smell of papaya shampoo nearly drove him insane. Not saying a word until he had walked through the back door, Ceilo finally exhaled. “Oh God yes I hope it will be continued.” Fanning herself with her left hand, she laughed at no one or nothing in particular. When they had gathered together on the beach, Phillipe turned to Christian. “This is my show remember.” Eyebrows raised he did not like the idea of two cooks in the kitchen at the same time. “No doubt mate.” Once before they had tried to co-teach a class together. It had been a disaster. Drawn in two different directions with two different teaching methods the students had no idea which way was up when the day was over. “Okay this is basically the same lesson as yesterday.” Along the edge of the ocean Philippe laid out several sets of masks and fins. “What size shoe do you wear? A thirty six?” Holding up the fins he thought to be the right ones, he was thrilled when she nodded. “Great guess what did you do look inside my shoes?” Without asking what she should do she pulled the rubber foot pocket over her heals. Then kicked her feet back and forth proudly. Both the instructors laughed. “The most important piece of equipment when snorkeling.” Holding up his own mask he showed her how to put in on. “Suck in with your nose. If the mask seals tightly that‟s good. If it does not seal that‟s bad. No seal you get water in your face.” Handing her the three masks she tried each one on and chose the pink one with two distinct lenses. Pulling it on over her head she enclosed both her ears and tons or hair in the mask. “Before you put on the mask.” Again they were both laughing. “ Pull your hair back completely away from your face.” Moving each individual hair at a time, he reestablished her perfect pony tail. “When placing the mask on put the strap on the back of your skull not on your neck.” As he finished adjusted the strap he pinched her nose. “Breath out your mouth only. Until you get comfortable doing this you may want to hold your nose closed.” Pointing towards the completely fogged up mask spoke in a funny nasal sounding voice. “I can‟t see.” This whole get up seemed quite unnatural. “The next piece of equipment is the snorkel. You want to put your mouth and teeth around the mouthpiece like this. The key is to grip it tightly without actually biting down on it.” Pulling off her mask he washed it out in the ocean, then spit in it. Moving the spittle around with his fingers he washed it back out again. “Ewe that‟s disgusting.” Even though she was protesting he put the mask back on her face, and this time it did not fog up. “I have magic saliva.” Holding her nose temporarily, he helped her up to her feet. “The key to walking on land with fins on it simple. You don‟t do it unless you have to. Always put your fins on as close to the water‟s edge as possible. When you get more comfortable, if the conditions warrant it, you can even put them on in the water. If you have to use fins on land, you walk backwards. First check the ocean in front of you to make sure there are no impediments in your way.” Turning her so her back was to the ocean, they looked over their shoulder at the sandy bottom. “Next we start shuffling our feet backwards like this.” They were all laughing in spite of themselves by the time they were waste deep. Even the small waves made moving more difficult than before. “Turn back to face the ocean again.” There was so much excitement in Ceilo‟s eyes they looked ready to come out of the socket. It was not fear by any means. The only fear was coming from Phillipe who remembered the collapse yesterday. “Because of the conditions and until you are more comfortable.” Around her belly he fit her with what looked like a weight lifting belt. “You will be wearing this flotation device. This is only temporary so stop looking at me like that.” Sticking out her tongue playfully, Ceilo was chomping at the bit to dive in. “Unlike swimming when it comes to snorkeling you almost never want to use your arms. Snorkeling is all about your legs. Remembering the most important rule to breath out your mouth only! If for some reason you get water in the snorkel do not panic. Blow out very forcefully and then breath in cautiously in case you did not get all of the water out.” Pouring water into Christian‟s snorkel, Phillipe watched as he blew out. It sounded like a large whale causing her to chuckle. “We are ready to go play.” Phillipe took very little time teaching people with words. Experience in his estimation was the best teacher. Kicking slowly out from the beach, Ceilo discovered one of the best parts of Roatan nearly immediately. The coral reefs start less than fifty yards from the shore. Having to force herself to breath she could not even begin to express what she was seeing. Everywhere her eyes went there was coral of all shapes sizes and colors. Large sea fans and sponges moved back and forth in the waves. Darting in and out of the infrastructure were hundreds no thousands of fish of all sorts. The colors were incredible as if someone had taken a whole box of crayons, and just dropped them in the water at once. Pointing at the biggest brightest fish in site, she wished there was a way to communicate underwater. “A queen parrotfish.” Leaning towards her ear, Phillipe was playing tour guide now. Quickly realizing that what ever she pointed out he would identify, Ceilo was pointing at everything. “Southern stingray, Moray Eel, Peacock grouper, queen angle fish, spiny lobster.” For what seemed like hours, he identified them all. Not once could she stump him with a fish or even a sponge. Not only did he know their familiar names, but their Latin and scientific names as well. Even Christian was impressed by the display. Feeling a little uncomfortable when they got passed water she could stand in, Ceilo pointed back towards the beach. Gently pulling her face above the water, Phillipe spoke. “The best of this trip is yet to come. Trust me.” Any fear she had evaporated with his assurance of strength and curiosity. Deeper and deeper the water grew below them until it had to be nearly ten meters. Then it leveled out. They swam for at least another fifty meters towards a large darkening ocean. As if approaching the end of the world all of sudden the reef just stopped. Ceilo did the same. There was no longer a bottom to look at. Nearly ninety degrees straight down the reef went vertical rather than horizontal. Staring over the edge she could not begin to understand why he said this would be the best part of the snorkel. Preferring the shallows she tapped him on the back. Putting his hand under her chin, Phillipe guided her vision forward instead of down. If she was breathing hard before, she was not breathing at all now. In the column of water were at least a million large silver fish. There were so many that they blocked out the early morning sun. Each one was three to five feet long with the nastiest sharpest teeth she had ever seen. Large black stripes on their iridescent bodies danced with shadows and light like a mirror. Turning quickly towards Phillipe she had a smile so gaping it was letting water in the side of her mouth. Slightly panicked by the salty taste she remembered to breath out hard, slowly deliberately drawing in the next breath she was happy when the water was gone. “Follow me there is one more thing I want to show you today.” No longer going out to see they followed instead along the edge of the “wall” towards the east side of the island. Instead of darkness something else loomed on the horizon this time. It was some sort of underwater relief. Not until they were almost on top of it did she realize what she was looking at. An old sailboat maybe seventy feet long was resting on the reef about twenty yards from the wall. Covering in much the same corals, fans, and sponges as the bottom it looked like a ghost in the ocean. Swarming around the mast were thousands of the cutest little purple and black fishes. “Blue Chromis.” Again though her eyes were focused on the wrong location, Phillipe adjusted her face so she could see what he wanted her to. Gliding effortlessly passed her were a half dozen sting rays much like she had seen on the bottom by the shallow reef. Only these ones were covered in the black and white spots. Moving dominoes so graceful they nearly brought a tear to her eye. “Spotted Eagle Rays.” Both Christian and Phillipe suddenly threw an arm in front of her. Their eyes were focusing on something coming out of the darkness. “Lets head back in.” Pointing his fingers towards his mask then towards Christian the two of them continued to swim in. Christian stayed behind never taking his glance from the deep water. The trip in was much quicker but no less exciting then the trip out. A big green turtle carelessly darted back and forth in front of them. Twice it surfaced less than ten feet in front of the snorkelers. Ceilo wanted to stay out and play, but Phillipe was moving her quite steadily into the shallows. Remarkably they came right up exactly where they had left nearly an hour before. Rushing her a bit up onto the sand, Phillipe turned his glance back out towards the wall. “Hold up here for a minute I will be right back.” Once he spotted Christian slowly moving back towards them, he dove in. Only he did not stay on the surface. Instead he disappeared below. “Where did he go?” For what seemed like an eternity he stayed under the water. Starting to panic now, Ceilo had no idea what to do. Just as she thought to start screaming he broke the surface at least thirty meters further off shore. Within seconds he and Christian were next to each other swimming in. Every so often, they took turns checking the ocean behind them until they got to the beach. “What was that all about? You scared me half to death.” Meeting them at the water‟s edge, she almost punched him in the arm. “That was a big boy my friend.” Christian patted him on the shoulder and took a deep breath. “Yeah tell me about it. Third different one I have seen out here this month. Too many fisherman dropping their leftovers by the last buoy coming into the channel.” Both of them seemed to be ignoring Ceilo and she was not very happy with this. “Are you two…” Holding his hand up gently to her mouth, Phillipe finally answered her. “It was tiger shark, a big fella at least four meters maybe more. We didn‟t want to frighten you while we were out there otherwise I would have told you then.” Helping her off with the various equipment, he put his arms out to the side. “Well, how did you like it?” Not sure how to judge the look on her quizzical on her face, Christian was waiting for something. “There was a shark out there and you didn‟t even point it out to me. I can‟t believe you two.” This time she did punch Phillipe in the arm. “I have wanted to see a shark in the water since I was five.” Punching Christian this time, she shook her head. “It was wonderful by the way. Stupendous. Magnificent. By far the best experience of my entire life. Thank you.” Kissing Christian on both cheeks, she could not help but laugh at him blushing. “If you want to see a one that badly I will show you a couple of nurse sharks this afternoon. They are the Golden Retriever of the shark family. Tiger sharks are nothing to play with when you are snorkeling. They are more like the abused Pit Bull.” Suddenly serious she sensed some apprehension as long with admiration in his words. “Whose afraid of the big bad shark?” Making the noise from the move Jaws, she danced around them with her hands above her head like a fin. Neither of them looked even the least bit amused. “Please tell me you haven‟t told her yet. Because if you have, I don‟t like her much anymore.” Christian looked very angry like he were ready to take her out to the woodshed and beat her. “No I haven‟t told her yet. Anyone want some lemonade?” Knowing full well he did not want to have this discussion before teaching her to dive, Phillipe walked up the beach to the house. “Okay what did I say?” Both of the men that adored her an hour before now looked at her like she was the devil. “Philippe and his family have had very bad luck with tiger sharks. His father was a spear fisherman in Haiti. He was killed by a tiger when he was only six. His mother and several cousins tried taking a boat to Miami. Overloaded the vessel sank somewhere in the Bahamas. Twenty-two people out of thirty did not make it to shore. Eaten alive by sharks most of them tigers. His mother was amongst them. I am sure you have noticed the scar covered his entire torso…” Keeping his voice down, Christian went step by step discussing the tragic history of a family. “That‟s impossible. Shark attacks are like one in million.” Horrified at herself her hands held up to her face, Ceilo could not imagine this to be true. “One in ten million actually. Unfortunately it doesn‟t make it any less true. I was one of the people that found Phillipe up on the north side. Almost five years ago this month. He doesn‟t remember a thing about it. One moment he was diving down to pick up a spiny lobster. The next moment he was on the beach with his right lung flapping in the breeze. If not for the fact that one of the natives at Punta Gorda spotted him almost immediately he would have been the tenth shark victim in his family‟s history.” Christian kept looking up at the house wondering when Phillipe would return so he could stop this horrid tale, without the awkward silence that would follow. “My God that is the most horrible thing I have every heard.” Her voice cracked when she spoke. How could she have been so callous? “I didn‟t know Christian. Please understand I didn‟t know. He must hate me. Oh no he must absolutely hate my guts.” Burying her face in her hands, she imagined Phillipe poisoning her lemonade inside the house. “What is wrong with you two? You look like someone just shot your iguana.” Placing the pitcher and plastic tumblers down on the sand, Phillipe knew what she was so upset about. Only he did not want to talk about it now or ever. Both of the people with him on the beach were silent. Ceilo looked ready to start bawling at any second. “Listen some people have a history or heart attacks or strokes in their family. Mine is no more tragic than that, just a bit more gruesome. Lets not talk about it anymore.” His words did little change the looks on their faces. “The ocean belongs to them. We are just guests in their world. I don‟t blame them for being what they are. Any more than I blame the lion that eats the wildebeest. They have been out there for two hundred and fifty million years. Who are we to come along for a mere hundred thousand and take over their world? No I am not mad at them for what has happened to the family Lacroix. Every time I see one I count myself lucky. I respect them for their power. I love them for their grace. They are beautiful.” Looking out towards the sea with nearly no expression at all until he came to the end of his speech. A thin grin built from out of nowhere. ”Anyone want some lunch?” Turning back towards the house, he walked alone at first. They both stood like statues taking in all the words he had spoken. Never had Christian heard him speak like that before. It was awe inspiring. Ceilo was the first to make the turn towards the house. “He is amazing you know. Abso-bloody-lutley amazing.” His words would normally have shocked her. Instead she nodded in agreement. “I could not have said it better myself.” Chapter 13: Estado Montebello The three of them ate nearly a pound of lobster salad and crackers before they finally gave up. Sloshing it down with a gallon of lemonade they could barely breath. “That was better than anything the resort has to offer.” Ashamed of himself, Christian could not believe he had said the words aloud. In truth the menu at the Anthony‟s key was excellent. Eating there everyday, he never got tired of the selection. From burgers to exotic Caribbean delights, they had a little something for everyone. This lobster though caught the day before, and cooked right before their eyes was spectacular. “That‟s a Maya recipe. I will have to let her know how much you…” Stopping himself he suddenly realized something. “Shoot. You know what tonight is.” Looking at the seldom used calendar on his wall, November 17, 2005 was marked with big red letters. Maya‟s Annual Bash. “That‟s tonight. Ah hell I am going to be wreck for work tomorrow.” Rubbing the salt water from his eyes Christian remembered the year before. At least he tried to remember the year before. Too many glasses of sangria mixed with a half dozen margaritas and a couple of mojitos. His stomach hurt just thinking about it. “Does someone want to tell me..” Feeling like a third wheel lately Ceilo was just recovering from the seen on the beach. “Sorry. Every year Maya has a pre-Columbus day party. It is the biggest most extravagant bash of the year. No one leaves until they have had their fill of everything imaginable. The food and drink and music are extraordinary.” Christian and Phillipe nodded at one another. “I don‟t know about the music but I will certainly agree with the rest.” Modest about his skills, Phillipe was normally the yearly musical entertainment. “Well I don‟t really know if I am invited.” Although she and Maya had grown close quite quickly, Ceilo could not imagine she was given an invite. “Invitation? Yeah right. There are not invitations. If you are on Roatan on November 17 th you are invited. Open door policy for anyone and everyone.” Obviously that was why she hadn‟t come to the Toucan the night before. It took nearly two days to set this thing up. “Would you mind giving me a lift up there and dropping Ceilo back at the resort. I should give her a hand?” Feeling like the worst friend alive, Phillipe would spend the rest of today trying to catch up. “I‟m off today I can give a hand. How about you Ceilo do you have any other plans? Great it‟s decided then.” Not waiting for her to actually answer Christian was already on his feet going out the door. On the back road leading up to Maya‟s home, there were dozens of large lawnmowers leveling out the nearby fields. Each one of those farm plots was labeled with two signs. On said PARK HERE, the other had a large letter on it. Not knowing anything about the night, Ceilo pointed and shrugged her shoulders. “Don‟t worry. You‟ll see.” Patting her on the head, Phillipe did not want to give up the surprise too early. El Estado Montebello (The Montebello Estate) was grand on any day of the year. On this day though it was simply audacious. Hundreds of gardeners and party planners decorated every inch of the lawn and house with everything from Christmas lights to ice sculptures. Still even with the eclectic mix or European influence and Caribbean flare, somehow Maya managed to put together in tasteful fashion. The largest patch of land where most of the festivities would take place was actually doubled as the soccer field the rest of the time. One of the contingencies of selling Maya‟s family this plot of land was that she allow the local governments to continue to have use of this field. “Its about time you got your ass up here!” Kissing his cheek quickly Maya came running by yelling something in Spanish in five different directions. “Put us where you want us.” Christian waved at her. “I want four bars in the four corners of the field. Stock them all with ice and load them with alcohol. The ice truck is out front.” Stopping only for second Maya pointed to the two boys then pushed them towards the door. “You come with me.” Grabbing Ceilo by the hand they scattered in different directions. “Paper products! The key to any successful large gala event is the availability of paper products. Please make sure the napkins, coasters, and plates get staggered strategically throughout the household. Basically everywhere you see a sign that says food or drink set it up.” Just about to turn and walk away, Maya hesitated for a moment then without warning she hugged Ceilo very tightly. “I‟m glad to see you back up on your feet little Ceilo. You had me scared to death last night.” A kiss on either cheek sent her back on her driven way. Most of the afternoon went along in the same fashion. Each job that ended turned into another. It was nearly four o‟clock before all three of her new helpers were standing idle. “Forgive me for saying but I think this is… How do you say it … Overkill. Don‟t you?” Looking at the seven bars and dozens of food stations set up around the estate Ceilo could not imagine what Maya was thinking. “What is with the advertising banners everywhere? You would think that she had sponsors for this party or something.” Taking a deep breath and laughing she turned to the two boys fully expecting them to agree. “She does.” Instead in unison they answered her. “For a house party?” They had all gone mad. “Our new friend here obviously doesn‟t get the scope of this event?” Turning to Phillipe, Christian winked and then cracked open a nearly frozen Port Royal beer. Smacking his lips he noticed the cold brew was going down far too smoothly. “There are approximately thirty thousand people on Roatan at any given moment. By eight p.m. tonight nearly a third of them, that‟s ten thousand people, will either be here, leaving here, or on their way here. Ten thousand people. That makes this slightly more than your average house party don‟t you think?” Knowing this was going to be a very long night, Phillipe grabbed a Red Bull instead of a beer. There would be plenty of time for drinking alcohol. “Ten thousand? No that‟s not a house party that‟s a football match.” Wiping the sweat from her brow, Ceilo sucked back her third bottle of water in the last two hours. “Are you going to be okay for tonight?” Ceilo‟s collapse from the night before seemed to have disappeared in the day‟s chores, but Phillipe was looking at her with concern again. “Are you kidding? I wouldn‟t miss this for the world.” Bouncing on her toes like a runner, she looked limber and fit. “This is going to be another really really long night.” Cracking his second beer of the early afternoon, Christian did not expect to survive until midnight. “Aren‟t you supposed to play at the Toucan again tonight? I thought I saw some sort of schedule on the kitchen table. Do they make an exception for the party?” From the look on their faces, Ceilo had missed the point again. “See that large blown up parrot out there in the yard?” Pointing towards one of several stands set up around the estate, Phillipe was grinning ear to ear. Ceilo merely nodded. “For one evening only that is the Twisted Toucan.. That over there is the Salt & Pepper; the Cannibal Café, Pinocchio‟s, Piero‟s Las Rocas, Berties, Georphies and The Argentinean Grill. You name the place and they will be here tonight. Not one respectable bar or restaurant anywhere on the Tan will be opening tonight. For this evening only El Estado Montebello is Roatan.” Walking towards them with a huge smile on her face was Maya. Listening to him speak she looked prouder and prouder with each step closer. “I think it is about time for you to head home and get ready. The properly invited should start to arrive around six.” Barely able to contain her enthusiasm Maya was certain this would be the biggest bash ever. “The properly invited?” Hadn‟t they just told Ceilo a few hours ago that there were not invitations for this event. “There are three stages to the party. First we have all of the diplomats and close friends. They arrive early and dressed to the nines. They talk of politics, fashion, and their latest billion dollar deals. Then the more adventurous of this group take off their ties and dresses and join my not so close friends in a bit of debauchery. At 8:15 p.m. on the dot we open the floodgates and everything goes steadily down hill. By midnight this place will resemble nothing short of a modern day Sodom and Gomorra. After that only the strong surviving souls will try their best to make it to sunrise. Even though the list of guests grows larger and larger with each year, the number that make it to see the sun has never broken fifty. Five years ago that was.” Looking at Phillipe she bit her lip when she mentioned this last fact. For the first time ever, Ceilo noticed him blush. “Okay what happened five years…” Wanting to know what was going on here, she tried to ask but was cut off. “We don‟t really need to go there.” Putting a finger to his lips he turned to Maya and then to Christian. They fought giggles steadily for almost thirty seconds. “Oh common. This is not fair.” Her curiosity was so intensely sparked Ceilo could barely think of anything else. “Tell me honey do you have a dress for the ball?” Knowing that a sober Phillipe would never allow them to discuss that infamous night, Maya changed the subject. “Not really?” Even if she had known ahead of time there was nothing in her wardrobe at home fit for such an event. “Come than child. Let‟s get you ready.” They disappeared towards the back of the house leaving the two boys alone. “You need a ride back to your place?” Taking a single beer for the road, Christian turned to Phillipe. “Yeah thanks.” During the short ride, the radio began blaring even more ominous news about hurricane Wilma. The latest advisory put the storm within a hundred miles of the Bay Islands by Friday. With the immense size and intensity of it they could very possibly see hurricane force winds of seventy plus miles an hour and ten to twelve feet of storm surge. Both men looked at each other and shook their heads. They would not be diving for weeks after this because the reefs and water clarity would be ravaged. “It looks like tomorrow is going to be another busy day.” His house had survived nearly thirty years of storms, but Phillipe was slightly worried. Each year he moved closer and closer to the ocean. Just last year alone he lost thirty feet of beachfront between himself and the reef due to beach erosion. This storm would surely put him under. “This should make the party all that more exciting tonight.” Looking at a front of dark clouds lining up on the horizon they could only imagine what was in store for them. There were half as many iguanas as usual in the yard when he came home. “Give me ten minutes.” Running for the house Phillipe could see the time was getting late on this day. “Take your time. I‟ll run about the key and meet you back here.” Sucking on the bottle with more fervor now, Christian was had a buzz going from his three beers A true Australian though, he had no problem going for several more hours at this pace. 14: The Governor They were running late as usual. Luckily Phillipe was part of the hired help so they got to park in the field nearest to the estate. This was reserved for workers and valet. Every other car was a Mercedes or BMW. It seemed quite funny to see them interspersed with beat up old Toyota hatchbacks held together with duct tape and a prayer. “El Blanco Haitiano. Yo mo retardo.” One of the valets was running by him and yelled this angrily. “Yes I know I am late. I am always late.” They were practically jogging towards the party which was already in its full swinging glory. Fortunately Philippe and his band were scheduled for later in the night. He should have been there though to assist the Twisted Toucan booth. Kevin and Paul would be Irish red when he got there. “This looks more impressive than ever.” Nodding his head at Christian, Phillipe took a second or two to take in the thousands of white Christmas lights rapped around every tree and shrub that possibly support them. For the first two hours all the white lights would be on. After that they would be replaced with the colored ones. This was the signal to let the floodgates of tourists into the room. “Nice of you to show up El Blanco Haitiano.” Completely bastardizing his Spanish nickname, Kevin looked not the least bit upset with him. “I‟m here aren‟t I?” Mockingly acting like he was going to kiss the big man, Phillipe jumped up onto top of the bar and screamed. “Who wants a shot ladies? Lets get naked!” Even though this was supposed to be the mellow sophisticated part of the evening, this was still the Twisted Toucan bar. At least a dozen of the most sophisticated lady‟s in Roatan society lined up for the first part of the invitation. From the looks in their unhappily married eyes the second part could be close behind if Phillipe wanted it to be. Even dressed in a tuxedos the two Irishman looked ready to “spark one up” at any second. They were thoroughly out of place amongst this sort of crowd. To the credit of their highly successful establishment though, they could get anyone to drink and have a come time. From a priest to a preschooler if need be they had the ability to corrupt them all. “Good evening Mrs. Governor how is the gala treating you so far?” With a wink and shot, Philippe took the devastatingly attractive ex-miss Ethiopia‟s hand and kissed it. “Bonjour Monsieur Lacroix. Je suis tres tres bien. Comment allez vous?” A master of at least a dozen languages Carolina greeted him in his native French. “Much better now that you are here.” Another kiss on the top of her hand, and he moved to the next lady. There was no real danger flirting with the devotedly married governor‟s wife. For one thing everyone was aware that Phillipe never fooled around knowingly with a married woman. Second the governor was like a second father to Phillipe bringing him over on a sponsorship from America and helping to finance the purchase of his house. “Juan. Pardon me, governor Alvarez will be here in few moments. He will want to ask you about this Ceilo girl. I met her earlier. Exquisite choice my dear boy. She is an absolute porcelain doll of perfection. It is a dreadful shame about her illness. Live for today my beautiful boy. Live for today!” None of the patrons spoke French and so they listened in knowing nothing of the conversation. Understanding that the coconut telegraph carried information on this island like a wild fire spreads flames, Phillipe was not the slightest bit surprised that Carolina knew about Ceilo. “Bon noir Madame.” They smiled at each other and the next woman took her place. For the better part of an hour the guests filtered through the various bars and snack booths. As expected most of the conversation bordered on political issues. “The Honduran president needs to remember how much income he derives from the out islands when he is levying taxes.” “If we had better roads in the interior we could complete with Costa Rica for the ecotourism trade.” “Real estate markets need to balance out against the constructions costs.” “Our emergency response levels to natural disasters need to improve in the mountainous regions.” “Someone needs to shut Chavez up in Venezuela before we are paying ten dollars a gallon for regular unleaded.” These were the kinds of topics and broad statements that Phillipe heard from the elite. Still there was one conversation being held above all. It was a common one from May until November in the Caribbean. “So what do you hear about this latest storm? Someone at the ministry said it might hit us head on now.” The secretary of the department of the Interior looked more ashen than usual on this night. Knowing that a bad hurricane could cost this tourist dependant nation tens of millions in lost revenue with the season just beginning to get into full swing. “The word from Miami is that it is still touch and go. One of the buoys just registered a twenty five foot swell, and a thirty two mile an hour gust. Could be pretty nasty by midnight tomorrow?” His assistant had answered ten calls before his wife threatened to sleep with one of the bartenders. Now his hands were jittery as he turned off his phone and felt cut off from the world. The sound of a loud gong was enough to stop all conversation. Then a loud speaker feedback turned everyone‟s attention to the main house. Standing on the back balcony with a large spotlight fixed on her was Maya Montebello in a stunning black Channel dress with a slit all the way up the left side past her hip. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Madams et Monsieurs, Damen und Herren, Hombres et Chicas.” At this last part several people laughed. All of the other introductory addresses in the various languages were respectfully formal whereas the one in Spanish was most certainly common. “Welcome to the eighth annual Montebello Columbus Day gala. There are many familiar faces of those who have been here throughout. I thank you for returning again. For those of you here for the first time, I welcome you with open arms. Just a warning though the brownies at the Twisted Toucan might be a little more potent than your blue blood can stand.” More raucous laughter and clapping erupted. “Only if you have more than one!” Yelling out above the night was Kevin, who had just disappeared five minutes before to smoke. “Seriously though given the status of our country today and the fact the at Wilma seems to be coming in for a blow, I appreciate all of you taking time out of your busy schedules to come play tonight. So without further ado, I give you this year‟s piece de la resistance. Straight back at the grill we have lobster and steak cooked anyway you like it. Stage left is Spanish cuisine fit for a queen. Stage right is Caribbean flare throughout the night. Right below my feet is everything else you‟d want to eat. The dinner gong has sounded my friends. Here‟s to a another wonderful year.” Holding a crystal goblet to the sky, she began a toast of at least a thousand people. “To our hostess!” No one could mistake the voice coming from the crowd. The spotlight turned down to the ground illuminating Phillipe standing once again on the bar. “I have been here for all eight of your gala events, so I feel as qualified as any to give a return toast to you. Year after year we come here to partake not only of your wonderful cuisine but of your magnificent company. There is not a hostess or a person anywhere in the world who could coordinate and sustain an event such as this. Since we will all be too far along at the end of the night to remember to say this, I would like to say this now.” Hundreds of people yelled in agreement with his final words. “Maya Evangelista Montebello you are one of us and we love you like a sister, mother, wife and daughter. You are Roatan!” As if leading a team of soldiers into battle Phillipe built up his speech for the end. With his final words the crowd erupted with noise fit for the Roman coliseum. There was no response for the lady on the balcony except a gentle curtsey. Had they been closer they might have noticed the tears building in her swollen eyes. Fortuitously for her reputation as a tough girl, no one was on the balcony but her to see it. Watching a thousand people consume food at once reminded Phillipe of the lean days in Port Au Prince at the bread lines. Only these people were slightly better dressed and the food was certainly more plentiful. Caught up in the moment of people watching he did not hear the voice behind him. “Hallo Monsieur Lacroix. Je suis ici!” As he did he came face to face with the governor of Roatan and coincidentally enough the owner of Anthony‟s Key Resort. His French was not nearly as good as his wife, but it was still more than passable. “Juan how are you sir?” The only male person he ever hugged in person was the governor, and they embraced now. “You haven‟t been by to see me lately my boy. Julito says you are getting feisty again. Ran into you with one of his guests the other night.” Knowing the true story already about the whole situation, he played the game. “You were misinformed sir.” This was a routine they went through every time. Phillipe knew what was required so he played along. “So that absolutely charming young lady I just met who made me think of leaving my wife of thirty five years is not your latest conquest.” Not sure how serious the feelings were on this he was careful for the last word he chose. “If you are referring to Miss Ceilo Bella sir, I would not put her in that category.” Serious only for a second, Phillipe wanted his mentor to understand his feeling on the matter. “Is that so?” Signaling with his arm for the boy to follow him, he stepped away from a growing crowd. “I‟ll be back in minute Kevin. Must not let Governor Alvarez wait you know.” There was a wink as everyone knew he was more than a father figure than a political leader to Phillipe. “I was not by any means kidding about her charm and beauty my dear boy, but lest not we forget how sick she really is.” Putting his arm around Philippe‟s shoulder he led him towards a back corner of the estate which was not filled in by revelers yet. “I don‟t need reminding. I‟ve seen it first hand as I am sure you know.” Looking back towards the main stage he wondered if Ceilo would be by soon. At a party this size it was quite possible to go the whole night without seeing the same person twice. “Tourists. Lay them and leave them happy. Who was it that said this to me?” Turning him around, he made serious eye contact. Sixty-five and counting Juan Martine Alvarez had all the features of a serious Spanish prince, with the skin color of an African dignitary. Always impeccably dressed and well mannered in social settings, he was respected by all. A man of high character and biting wit in private settings, he was loved by anyone who knew him even remotely well. “An arrogant teenager who did not know the working end of a toilet bowel.” Looking down he remembered many of the stupid things he‟d said in his past. Constantly reminded of his past mistakes by himself and others Phillipe wished he had shut himself up before now. “You are my boy. Not matter what your last name may be. Anything I ever do for you is with my heart. Therefore I would like to do something I almost never do with you. I would like to give you some advice.” His breath smelled of whiskey but Juan was never really intoxicated, so when he got serious Phillipe listened. “Although I don‟t think I really want to hear what you are going to say, you should go ahead anyway.” Not able to keep eye contact any longer, he turned back towards the party with a whimper. “Stay away from this girl Phillipe for both of your sakes. Otherwise when she leaves or passes away, you will both be destroyed. Hold back that tremendous heart of yours for someone you can grow old with.” Pounding soundly on Philippe‟s chest he tried to get his point across. “You don‟t understand sir, I just can‟t.” Walking away now, Phillipe was going to find Ceilo immediately and tell her how he felt. “You can‟t fix her Phillipe. She‟s not a sick lizard or a dolphin with a plastic bag stuck in its belly.” Trying to catch up to him, the governor was growing louder. “Damn it I am tired of everyone saying that to me. I know I can‟t fix her body sir. I‟m not an idiot I know I‟m not a freaking brain surgeon. The problem with all of you is you don‟t get what is really wrong with Ceilo. Its not that she is going to die.” Phillipe had to curb his rather severe temper for a second. Juan‟s eyes opened up further than necessary. “ It‟s that she has never had a chance to live. I can give her that Juan. I can make her feel alive.” The two men were face to face almost in a form of confrontation. Never before had they argued about a single thing. This was uncharted territory for them both. “I don‟t care what it does to me to watch her die. If it destroys me so be it.” His eyes were welling up now as he spoke. In twenty seconds he would do something he had not done once in his twenty-five years. “Listen to me now. I never had the pleasure of meeting your father though I talked to him a hundred times on the phone. I never met your mother either though your father couldn‟t say a bad word about her. When I brought you here I never imagined that I would try to take their place in your life. I tell you this now though. You can not save this young lady. Please understand that.” Holding the young man close to his chest he was the one with tears going down his cheek. When Phillipe was attacked by the shark it nearly tore the governor apart. “I know that, but I have to try. There are some people who sit at home and watch the world on television. They complain about poverty and corrupt government and do nothing. People like you and Maya you stand on the front line. You battle for every worthwhile cause that God throws your way. That is who I want to be. That is the young man I have become. I will not sit idly by and watch her die.” Acting now like the adult he tried to make his surrogate father understand his conviction. “What are you two doing back here by yourselves?” Approaching at high speed was the governor‟s wife. Wiping at the chins with macho charisma, they turned around. “We are discussing plans for the hurricane my dear.” Taking her by the hand, they all moved back towards the party. “You both make horrible liars.” Reaching out her arms, she drew Phillipe in to her side. “It‟s almost eight o‟clock time to get the party started.” Running up to the Toucan bar again, he screamed at the top of his lungs. “SCREAM if you love TEQUILLA!” To this effect two dozen people let out a mighty roar, and gathered around a long frozen slide. They knew the drill. A gigantic cowbell rung constantly by Kevin with intense enthusiasm. “Who‟s going to be the first?” Before he could say another word, Christian was in position with his mouth open at the end of the apparatus. Carved from a solid block of ice was a long descending channel much like a slide on a pool. The purpose of said slide was to channel liquor down to the bottom where it would be consumed. By the time the liquor got there it was severely chilled. “Christian you are on.” Pouring several ounces from a bottle of Souza hundreds of people cheered him on. “Good job! Who‟s going to be next?” Chapter 15: Debauchery 101 By the time 8:15 p.m. came around and the masses descended upon the gala, most of the blue bloods had filtered their way out the exit. Those who remained had changed from tux and dress into sun dresses and Hawaiian shirts. It was time for the real fun to start. Each of the dozen remaining vendors had similar extravagant drinking exhibitions going on. From beer bongs to upside down Margaritas all the way to wet tee shirt contests, the party was in full swing. Still dressed neatly in his best suit, Phillipe did not want to change until he had seen Ceilo. It was stupid pride issue on this part, but he was holding to his resolve. “El Blanco Haitano amore!” Expecting to see another in a line of drinking buddies he turned to face the perpetrator of his nickname. Only when he turned it was not at all who he expect. Standing before him in the finest Prada dress he had ever seen was Ceilo. There was no words that came to Phillipe, he could barely take a breath. “My God you look…” Several of his friends watched the look on his face and instantly knew that the rumors were true. Roatan‟s most swinging bachelor was in love. “Thank you. You have no idea what that means to me.” Leaning in so close she could feel his belt buckle against her waist Ceilo kissed both his cheeks. To hear the other nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine people say meant nothing in comparison to just one gasp from him. “Now can get out of these rags and into something more comfortable, I can‟t breath, and my arches are killing me?” Laughing together, they both disappeared to a more private place to change. When they returned mere moments later, a Mariachi band had begun playing a salsa. Literally thousands of people started dancing in whatever nook or cranny that they could find an inch of space. Another piece of Maya‟s extensive wardrobe the little off the shoulder CK dress showed off Ceilo‟s chest as if it were on display. “Why did she cover up the pool?” Looking at the only location designated as a dance floor, Ceilo could see it was covering a swimming pool. “Three years ago they started a conga line around two in the morning. Let‟s just say the paramedics had to be called in. No one was hurt, but the pool has been closed ever since then for parties.” Not even 9:00 p.m. Christian was stumbling all over the place, and he was not the only one. Most of the early crowd were rip roaring drunk, and did not seem to be the least bit concerned about this fact. “How are you feeling Christian?” No a drinker by trade the scuba instructor chose two or three times a year to get pissed. This was definitely one of those nights. “Lucky. The only question is WHO AM I GOING TO GET LUCKY WITH!” Yelling this so loudly it actually hurt Philippe‟s ears, he stood back as several obviously available young ladies gathered round in celebration. “Well then that takes care of him. Now how are you doing?” Having to stand inches away just to have his voice heard, Phillipe had nearly forgotten his confrontation with the governor by now. “Each day here just gets better and better. I am having an amazing time of it.” As if a bubble had surrounded the two of them, they swayed back and forth to the music unaware of anyone else. “When this night is over, I really have to tell you something very important. Well, at least its very important to me. I don‟t…” Stammering along now, the usually smooth Phillipe was tripping on his own tongue. “Later than. You can tell me later.” Both of her hands surrounded his cheeks, and she was closing in for that long awaited first kiss. “This is the best one yet! Don‟t you think so darling?” Three sheets to the wind, Maya nearly knocked her over getting to Phillipe. “Far better than the year of your endless conquests! You hairless little slut you.” Only the first kiss of the evening was stolen by Maya; who was less than enthused when it was not reciprocated. “Darling are you having a good time?” Not wasting time on whatever issues Phillipe was having she turned to Ceilo hugged her passionately. “I was just saying this is the best day of my life!” Trying on clothes and greeting the hundreds of guests with Maya, she had never felt more special. There was only one quick moment of tension just as they headed for their first greeting when an awkward question on everyone‟s lips was finally asked. “You know I love you right my little Ceilo?” Kissing her cheeks, Maya held her close at her side as they walked down the staircase. “Of course.” Her hostess had already had three glasses of sangria at this point. “Well then I am going to get this one uncomfortable question out of the way.” Smiling at the guests in the lobby they looked like royalty descending onto their court. “Are you screwing Phillipe?” Never breaking her smile or looking the least bit concerned Maya spoke quite frankly. “No.” Vulgar language did little change her view of this extraordinary woman. “But you want to be? And from what I hear he was wants to be screwing you. So I ask you why haven‟t you done it yet?” They were ten steps from the door now. “Honestly the timing has not been right yet?” Had there been more time, she would have gotten into the whole virgin and wanting it to be something special conversation, but right now she needed to be brief. “My dear not to put a finer point on it, but you‟re a tourist who in three days will be going back to Italy to live out her final days. You want him and he wants you. Make the time!” She did not candy coat her feelings. There was no question about it. “My goodness Mary you look absolutely splendid this evening.” With the greeting of the first guest the conversation vanished. They did not talk about it again, and Ceilo never got a chance to respond. “I am so happy for you dear. Watching you blossom the last three days has been like seeing the sun rise for the first time. That is how special I hold you in my heart.” Taking her in a loving embrace, Maya reached back and took Phillipe and pulled his hand to Ceilo‟s symbolically. “I had better not be the only one getting lucky out of the three of us tonight! Do I make my point perfectly clear?” If anyone else had created this little dramatic play, Phillipe would have thought them either rude or just plain obnoxious. However, when it came to Maya, no matter what she said nor how she said it, it simply stank of class and good cheer. Even given their history together, Phillipe was not the least bit put off. Neither of them verbally answered her challenge. There was a certain gleam in both their eyes though that said, they would do their best to accommodate her request. “Time to take the stage loverboy.” Pulling them both towards the center stage which had just been vacated by the mariachi band, she was floating on air. Once their she picked up the microphone and announced. “And now the moment you all have been waiting for. From Port Au Prince Haiti. You all know him as the White Haitian Lover. I give you the one the only. PHILLIPE LECROIX!” An MC could not have done a better job. The throng of locals started chanting quite loudly. “El Blanco Haitano!” Even the tourists who mostly had no idea what they were saying joined in the screaming. “I‟ll see you in between sets at the side of the stage.” Covering his own ears, he yelled loud enough so that Ceilo could hear him. Looking through the crowd, she spotted the Alvarez family surrounded by bodyguards. This seemed like as safe a place as any to watch the show. “Ceilo my dear have you come to join us?” Pulling her into the circle Carolina, cleared one of her son‟s off the seat next to her and deposited her new friend. “Have you ever heard him play? His music is simply divine.” A bit tipsy the normally reserved politician‟s wife was letting loose a bit more than in previous years. “Yes once or twice.” Reaching into her purse, Ceilo took at several of her pills and began popping them down. A twinge in her belly had begun to grow in intensity. “Are you okay?” Leaning in so as not to draw attention to her medication, Juan was as always protective and direct. “Fine I think?” Not too enthusiastic or driven in response, the governor pulled his seat around next to her. “If at anytime you need to go lie down, these men will clear a space. Just say the word.” Looking up at two dozen huge well-dressed security guards, she nodded and smiled. “Tonight I do not think it will be necessary.” Holding his hand tightly she continued. “Thank you kind sir for your concern.” Maya had told her of what he had done for Phillipe as a boy. It also explained his several joking calls to and from “the governor” over the previous days. The first song which the band played was a catchy reggae number which of course she did not recognize. What made it more compelling then the previous ones she had heard was the language in which it was sung. It was the very first time, she had heard Phillipe do anything in his native language. “It‟s Creole. Unless you are from the islands and speak French the only people who understand it are other Haitians.” As if realizing that Ceilo did not understand a single word that he was singing about, Julito jumped in. “Why does everyone make such a big deal out of the fact that he is a White Haitian?” Knowing very little about the islands, she was constantly surprised by his nickname, and how many people laughed as they said it. “Actually there are a lot of white people in Haiti. That is not where the joke comes from. Most of the white people are of the severe white collar group. They speak nearly flawless French, and spend most to their time bathing in money. Phillipe on the other hand grew up in the not so nice portion of Port Au Prince speaking Creole. Let me assure you there are very few white people in Haiti who speak and understand Creole, and even most of them would never do it in public society. Phillipe loves his heritage and has not the slightest bit of shame expressing it.” Like a proud mother, Carolina kept pointing to Phillipe as she spoke about him. “People often mock what is different. Believe me if anyone knows this it is me.” Settling back into her seat, Ceilo was not going to let her illness get the best of her on this most special night. To that effect, when Phillipe started a limbo line, she was right there next to him. “With this one it is not a matter of how low can she go, it is how low will she go?” Several people laughed at his joke, and cheered the mysterious Italian girl under the bamboo pole. They seemed fascinated with the juicy past sex life of Phillipe and were captivated with the idea was him finding true love in a dying girl. Watching several of the local and island girls meander their way lower and lower to the ground, Ceilo was fascinated. Most of the tourists were out of the competition before it even started. Mere inches from the ground now, they continued their descent. As the crowd grew louder and more loquacious, so did the contestants. Even the ever increasing winds and light rains could not dim the enthusiasm of the evening. “How are all of these inebriated people going to get home tonight?” It was nearly midnight and the party seemed to be winding down. Most of the throng of thousands were now waiting at the exits. Worried that this many drunk drivers could not be safe, Ceilo turned to governor Alvarez hoping for an answer. “All of the West End public bus system has been rerouted to here for the evening free of charge. This is done at Maya‟s request and expense I might add. There will be several buses an hour until two a.m. then a bus every hour until lunch time tomorrow afternoon. Any overflow from there will be pushed onto taxis and locals who seem happy to assist in any endeavor that brings more money to the island.” Politics had been the last thing on his mind when Juan arrived her thirty-two years prior. This was supposed to be a real estate deal and nothing more. Only he fell in love with Rotan and its people causing him to never want to leave. “How does a free party thrown by an eccentric millionaire bring money into the island?” Not sure if she had missed the basic premise of tonight‟s gala, Ceilo looked confused. “You are not a business woman I see.” With a wink and pat on the shoulder, Juan took his time making the connection. “The best tourist advertising in the world is not billboards or websites, not even television commercials. The best way to bring more people to Roatan is to have the ones who come here go home and tell their friends. Word of mouth feeds hungry children. They in turn tell their travel agents. An event like this although it does not directly bring any further income to our island, does wonders for our public image as a fun place to go. Several weeks before Thanksgiving and there is not a single empty room on the West End. Why? Maya‟s Columbus day bash has a following now.” Dozens of the remaining part goers were on their feet, as Phillipe started another song. From out of no where a loud drunken voice yelled. “CONGA LINE!” It took mere seconds before the fun began. Stationed all the way around the growing serpentine like line were bartenders with bottles of alcohol. As the people passed shots were poured directly from the bottles down their throats. It was unlike anything Ceilo had ever experienced. There was no white or black, local or tourist, rich or poor, there was only people. Mixing and intermingling in a tapestry of cultural bliss, they hugged kissed and danced as if all part of the same huge family. When the song ended people screamed for more as though struggling to keep the fire alight. “We are going to take a quick break and be back to continue our revelry until the morning light!” A few boos and whistles were easily stamped out by those willing to wait a few minutes to resume their fun. “Three hours without a break and still they push on for more.” Approaching the governor‟s “box” Phillipe went immediately to Ceilo. “Absolutely wonderful!” A kiss on either cheek and shrill voice reminded him why he gave up hours of debauchery for this every year. “Do you think it is about time for you to call it an evening?” Leaning in closely so that no one else would hear his words, Phillipe was concerned. Her face was especially pale, and her voice was hoarse with over use. “Soon.” Appreciating the concern, but not wanting to leave alone, Ceilo was feeling rundown even with most of her medication in her. “Well young man it is about time for us to call it an evening.” A strong hug came from each of the governor‟s clan though the strongest was from Juan himself. “Miss Bella it has been the greatest of pleasures making your acquaintance and we hope to see you again before you return home.” His formality disappeared when Ceilo hugged him as well. “Perhaps one of you could get her a ride back to the Key?” Maybe it was the wind or the humidity in the air, but Ceilo really looked to be ready to pass out again. “Of course, Julito should be going back that way?” Turning to his eldest son, he had a nod before another word could be said. “Perhaps you are right, it has been a very long eventful day.” Looking at Phillipe she was saddened to be going back to the hotel alone. Her desire would be to fall asleep in his arms again at his house. Embracing Phillipe for an extra long time, she hoped that he would see her soon. Knowing his reputation and given the condition of the remaining crowd, she doubted he would leave alone. Several of the band members were growing impatient waving for him to get back on the stage. “I‟ll see you tomorrow.” Holding her face in his hands, Phillipe smiled then bounded back up on stage. If not for his moral obligation to Maya, he would have dropped everything and returned home with her. “I should say goodbye to Maya?” Searching the dwindling crowd she had not seen the hostess in several hours. “Don‟t worry you will.” Taking her arm, Carolina walked her towards the gate, using her as a bit of stability for her unsure legs. Sure to her word as they got to the gate, they found the hostess saying her goodbyes to several other guests. “Oh honey you look dreadfully tired.” Having wanted to keep Ceilo around for Philippe‟s sake had turned about to be a very selfish endeavor. The girl looked horribly pale again. “Thank you? I thought I did really well tonight?” Feeling self-conscious now, she wondered how bad she must look. “Little Ceilo you did spectacular tonight. Aside from myself and the governess, you were the belle of the ball.” Rubbing her nose on her cheek, Maya realized how snotty her previous statement must have sounded. “I will find a way to get you the dress back tomorrow.” Kissing her new friend on the forehead, Ceilo felt vindicated by the obvious attempt to suck up. “Keep it. Call it a memento of Roatan.” Turning to other members of the governor‟s party she was doing her best to stay cordial. “But I couldn‟t possibly..,” According to Phillipe this was a three hundred dollar plus dress. Not nearly the fifteen thousand original she was wearing earlier in the evening, but still far too nice a gift. “I will not hear of it.” Holding up her hand Maya attempted to ignore Ceilo‟s objection. “Take this young lady home before she offends my hospitality.” Turning to wink at her, Maya wanted her to know the discussion was over. “Thank you for all your generosity.” Walking with Carolina towards the awaiting limousine, Ceilo had to shake her head. Had someone told her a week before that she would be holding the governor‟s wife‟s arm, getting driven home in limo, while wearing a three hundred dollar dress that she now owned; she would have thought them mad. Yet, here she was living a dream. Chapter 16: Julito “Where are you taking me?” Confused that the limo had just passed by Anthony‟s key Ceilo turned to face Julito. “Did you really want to go to the resort?” Having resigned himself to the fact that Philippe might actually really care for this young lady, Julito was prepared to watch out for his adopted brother‟s back. “Where else would I rather go?” Not sure what he had in mind, she was reticent to give him an answer. “Perhaps a small bungalow on the north shore surrounded by hundreds of green scaly lizards?” Smiling devilishly for the first time in years, the normally straight laced businessman cackled. “What if he was not planning on coming home alone? That might be a bit embarrassing.” It seemed strange to be having this conversation with the hotel manager. ”He won‟t be. Trust me. After more than decade I know this much about him.” His confidence was not so much in Philippe‟s fidelity, as it was in his reluctance to bring any woman home to his domicile. A particularly jealous tourist had once tried to burn down his house when she caught him another woman. Since then he went to their hotel rooms. “Do you mind if I ask you a question Julito?” Parents and friends tended to be biased in their approach to the world, brothers on the other hand could be counted on to be more straight forward. “I‟ll answer that when I hear the question.” Much like his father he was a politician to the end. “How did he really end up here from Haiti?” No one had gone into any great detail outlining the transition. “When the Bahamians picked him up from the ocean they dropped him in the US. My father read the article and contacted the Americans. They contacted the Haitians and voila Philippe becomes a Honduran citizen. It really was not as complicated as most people seem to think it was.” Drinking his fourth glass of water since he had gotten into the car, Julito was trying to re-hydrate himself. Nights like this were few and far between for an “early to bed early to rise” man. “Why did he Bahamians pick him up?” As usual Ceilo was at least one step behind. “From the boat? He was one of the survivors of the sunken boat. I thought someone would have told you about that by now.” Looking at the shock and horror in the eyes of Ceilo answered his question. “He was in the water with his mother when she was… Eaten?” Not sure what other word to use, it was the only one that came to mind. “Wow you really haven‟t heard the story. I would have thought Christian Robinson would have told you. The boy tells everyone else who asks about Philippe.” Only a minute from the house now, Julito closed his eyes to try and concentrate on the details. “Three months after his father died, his mom sold off all of their possessions to buy a trip to America for the family. When the boat went down his mom grabbed his young sister and told him swim ahead with the rest of the men. That was the last they saw of one another. Several of the men and one child, Philippe, made it all the way to an island. A week later they were picked up by a Bahamian coast guard cutter.” As the limo pulled up the long driveway, Julito squirmed around his seat. Telling sad tales of death was not his cup of tea. “My God that‟s horrible.” Poor Philippe what that young man had been through put her last two years in more perspective. No child should ever have to see something like that. “He leaves the key under the rock by the hibiscus tree. It has been a great pleasure as usual Miss Bella.” There was deep seeded sadness in his voice. Thinking to himself that she might be the latest in long line of people to die in front of Philippe, Julito tried to clear his mind of this unpleasant nightmare. “Thank you.” No house seemed darker or more depressing than that bungalow by the ocean. For several hours she lay in the bed looking out the bay doors towards the angry ocean. Nothing made sense anymore to her. The closer she came to reaching her dream the further away from secure she became. Across town Philippe was just finishing his five-hour set with all the power and soul he could muster. Normally stoned or drunk on the verge of belligerence at this point in the evening, he only had the crowd to bolster his tired hands and voice. ”You have been wonderful all of you. I don‟t think I have ever seen this many people here at three o‟clock. This has been a special night. One that I will never forget.” Of the hundred plus people who remained standing not one of them was silent. Their screams and cheers were deafening. “Lets end off the evening with one of my personal party favorites. A little tune from one our friends. Steel Pulse!” All the regulars knew what song was coming. They had been listening to him long enough to know which song he would rap up with. “Rally round!” Someone yelled the name of the tune, before they even started playing. Strangely enough the general premise of the song was black empowerment. For it to be the favorite song of a white artist, never seemed to dwell on either Philippe or those who listened minds. They merely sang and cheered to all of the words. The atmosphere was fever pitched when he finally stepped down from the stage. Several people called for an encore, but there would be none. “El Blanco Haitiano Amorer doesn‟t do encores mi amigo.” In an unusual form of Spanglish common in these parts one of the bartenders tried explaining Philippe to some of the tourist girls. “Hey I want to get laid and I hear you are the man to do it!” Pulling him off the stage was an American girl endowed with an unnaturally fake set of gravity defying bosoms. “Not tonight I have a headache.” Gently separating himself for the girl, he spotted Christian lying face first on the muddy ground. “What are you doing man?” Pulling him up off the earth, he motioned for Kevin to hold back the clamoring females. “I was looking for my keys.” There was little to no recognition of consciousness in the Aussie‟s eyes. “I have your keys, and you are not about to see them anytime in the near future.” Paul was already on the other side of Christian‟s body. They were walking him towards the gate to leave. “So you‟re going bone the Italian girl? You lucky son of bitch. Another notch on the bedpost Mr. white Haitian lover.” Sloppy drunks were nothing new to Philippe, but Christian was usually the happy exception. “Whatever man? Look there is a shuttle for the Key. It‟s your lucky day.” Nodding to the driver, he got his attention briefly. “How many girls have you had now? I mean do you even keep track anymore.” Continuing to press the envelope Christian was about to get dropped back in the mud. “Why don‟t you shut up now mate?” It was Paul that took the initiative. “Come on Pauley. What‟s another piece of ass to friends right Philippe?” Laughing and sputtering simultaneously, Christian did not get the hint to shut up. “You‟re drunk. Time to go to bed.” Getting up onto the bus now, he was slowly growing angrier with each word. “You‟ll let me know how she is, so I can continue to live vicariously through your conquests?” Barely able to speak now, the longer words had trouble flowing. “Trust me Christian if I had the opportunity to switch lives with you I would do it.” Motioning to the driver that it was time to leave he headed for the stairs. “Give the girl one last dying wish for me will you. Another notch on the bedpost.” Inches from the door, Philippe felt something snap in his head. Bounding back up the stairs, he grabbed Christian from the seat and slammed him up against the bus wall. “I want you to listen to me mate. Listen good because it is the last time we will have this conversation.” Suddenly sober, Christian was focused on the man who had just plastered him against the window hard enough to smash it. “Don‟t mock the pain and loss I have lived through. I meant it when I said I would gladly switch lives with you in heartbeat. Do you think I wouldn‟t give up every girl I have bed for one night with my mother, feather, and sister? Do you!” Several of his friends had come into the bus and were trying to no avail to pull him off Christian. “Next time you go to open your mouth, think about that!” Losing the momentary flash of rage, Philippe dropped him back down into the seat. The party had lost it‟s allure to him now. He was not going to return. Standing by the gate shaking her head was Maya. It had been a long time since anyone had seen this violent side of Philippe. The man could be downright scary when he grew angry or morose. Walking straight up to her, he did not say a word. He broke away when she tried to kiss and hug him. “Gotta go.” Passing all the other people who had gathered around him, he stormed off towards the Anthony‟s Key pick up. “What the hell did Christian say to him?” Maya grabbed Paul by the sleeve as he went by. Shaking his head she could only guess “The same stuff he says all the time about Philippe when he‟s not there. Only this time he was there. I shouldn‟t have let him take him on bus.” Paul was already walking away when he heard the “dying girl” comment. It had been too late for him to get back in there. “There had to be something more?” Not for at least five years had anyway seen Philippe lose his physical temper. When he first got here as a child of ten, he was always getting into fights. Even at the fancy schools the governor sent him too, he was continually being sent home or to detention. Twice they threatened to expel him. Everything came to head the morning he was attacked by the shark. From that point forward all of his anger against the world and himself, seemed to evaporate. It was as if the bite had opened him up spilling out all his demons. “He said give the girl one last dying wish for me will you. Another notch on the bedpost. No offense but if he had said it to me directly I would have split his skull. In comparison Philippe was calm.” Not wanting to speak too loud and offend the remaining guests, Paul whispered in her ear. “That sanctimonious prick. Personally I would have kicked him in the balls.” Maya was no longer worried about Philippe. On the other hand she seemed impressed to see his masculine side taking on another form besides horny outbursts. Tempted to drop the keys from the pick up in the bed, Philippe fought the urge and decided instead to drive it back to his house. Why had he allowed Christian to get on his nerves? After all he was drunk. Never take anything a drunk person says seriously. Yes, the mumblings of alcohol can sometimes be the truest words one ever hears, but they never come out the right way. Christian was jealous of Philippe‟s sexual resume. In his mind that meant that he was jealous of Philippe‟s life. Unfortunately, there was no separating the two aspects of him, and Christian could never have survived the latter. His backbone was too weak for personal tragedy. “God only piles bad things on those he thinks can take it little man.” The words of his father came back to haunt him daily. “Not that I am complaining, but I think I‟m carrying enough on this pile now.” Several times while sitting out by the sun set, Philippe had directed these words to the sky in a prayer. His answer had been Ceilo Adriana Bella. Wishing that she were with him now, Philippe sped up the driveway past the Villa Sol. Several times the pick up surged left or right with one of the growing wind gusts. Another in a series of painfully short days would come tomorrow. In no time she would be on a plane back to Europe and shortly after that she would die. Shaking his head angrily he reached under the rock to find his house key. Only it was not there. Walking around to the back of the house, he looked in the side window with the big rock in his hands. Lying there in his bed was Ceilo. Looking skywards with a smile he spoke. “Thank you Lord. You certainly work in mysterious ways.” Reaching around the open window, he popped the back door lock. “You‟re home earlier than I expected you to be.” Having heard the tales of sunrise breakfast, and hair of the dog bloody Marys she was surprised to see Philippe before the sun. “What are you still doing awake?” Pulling off his shirt, he flopped right down next to her barely able to stand anymore from fatigue. “Talking to God about you and me.” Still looking out the door as she spoke, Ceilo blessed herself, and returned to reality. “Did you get any worthwhile feedback from him?” Stroking the back of her head, Philippe preferred humor to religious conversation. “She said that I should stop thinking too much and just do it?” Still not turning to face him, Ceilo did not recognize her double entendre. “Do it?” Choking on a day old glass of tap water, Philippe was surprised at the words. “Yes get in the water and live my dream. Just do it.” Was he okay why did he suddenly look like she had asked him to have her baby or something? “Oh that. Okay. You had me feeling a bit like a quarter horse at a stud farm for a moment.” Pulling the covers over his legs now, he wondered if she would get the joke. “Oh my goodness. I didn‟t mean it like that. English sucks!” Covering her face with the pillow Ceilo was very embarrassed again. “In case I didn‟t tell you enough tonight. You looked breathtakingly gorgeous in that dress.” Realizing that she was wearing panties and one of his tee shirts, Philippe pushed in closer to her. Considering that they had never even kissed, he felt as if they had been together for years. Maybe it was intimacy of their encounters, or the shortness of their future, but he felt closer to Ceilo than any woman he had ever known. “You didn‟t tell me at all.” Rolling over to face him, she stroked his face with the back of her hand. “Let me tell you now.” There was nothing to stop this from happening. Leaning forward their mouths met. Slow and warm at first, their kiss grew with intensity. Lips parting their tongues intertwined with a small moan from within Ceilo. “About time. I was wondering if you were ever going to do that.” Giggling uncontrollably Ceilo grabbed the back of his head and quite forcibly brought his mouth to hers again. Philippe‟s hands longed to strip the clothes from her body, and take her right there. Still a sense that it was not the right time, kept his arms idly by her side. “Now I fall asleep. Thank you. You are better than any pill I own.” Cuddling up close to his chest, Ceilo made the decision for the both of them. Mere seconds later her breathing grew slower and deeper. “Thank you.” Turning his eyes to the ceiling, Philippe took a long deep breath. Chapter 17: The Parents “Hello?” Who would be calling his phone this early in the morning the day after the galla. Whoever they were, they were not from the Tan. No one here would be that intentionally cruel. Ceilo was coughing again, Philippe rolled over grabbed her the water he had stationed by the bed side. “Yes I am looking for Ceilo.” Angrily struggling to speak English, the man sounded very irate. Remembering that Ceilo had used his phone the day before to call her family, he could only imagine it was her father. “Un momento por favor.” Hoping that Spanish and Italian were close enough, he pushed the mute button, and covered the handset just in case. “I think it might be your father?” Tapping her gently on the backside. “What?” Rolling over with eyes so far wide open they looked ready to pop out of her head, Ceilo was going into panic mode now. “Easy. Get your head back on.” Holding her shoulders, he tried to calm her down. “How am I going to explain why you answered the phone?” Remembering her fear that her father would fly to Roatan and kill Philippe she was thoroughly panicked. “Pay phone. Tell him you called from a payphone. I am the security guard. I was sleeping by the phone. You know that sort of thing. Or if you want to be an adult than you can tell him the truth.” Having spent his time around a lot of women, he had heard them use nearly every excuse or lie under the sun. Whether it was mom or dad the excuses were all the same set of lame childish lies he had never had to use. “Ciao Daddy how are you?” Having lied enough in the past couple of days, Ceilo chose not be completely dishonest today. “I am worried baby. The television says you are going to have a hurricane today.” They talked for several minutes during which she tried to ease his fears. Finally when he was calm her mother yelled from the background. “Who is answering your phone at seven thirty in the morning?” There were a couple of other choice remarks she could not make out. One of them involved the word troya, which was not very nice. “It‟s not my phone. There was a big festival last night, and I slept at a friend‟s house.” There was a break in the conversation as he mother and father tried to think of how to respond to her honesty. “You were not drinking?” Being old enough to drink they had never had to worry about this from their daughter. Her excuse had been the disease, but the truth was drinking held not interest for her. “You know I can‟t drink mama. Not with my medicine.” It felt much better to tell them truth than all the white lies she had been sputtering. “Your friend is a boy?” Her father held up his hand. Knowing his wife would not handle this conversation well. It was important from him to control it. “Yes my friend is a boy.” Rolling over, Ceilo tried to wipe the morning from her eyes. How much of this did Philippe understand? Italian and Spanish were close enough to one another that she imagined he understood most. “Did you sleep with him?” Not able to resist the break in the conversation her mother screamed again. “I slept in the same room with him. I did not have sex with him if that is what she is asking.” Her father had become the go between as usual. The two women did this quite often in the house as well. “Okay okay you two. Enough. She is an adult. If she chooses to spend the night at boy‟s house that is her choice. My goodness the two of you when you talk.” It was not like her father to put himself in the middle. It was not like her father to stand up for her choices. Her eyes filled with tears when she heard him now. “Now having nothing to do with this boy. I want you to be careful. Hurricanes are nothing play with. Get yourself somewhere safe. We love you and worry about you.” Her mother was no longer saying anything. “I will papa. Tell mama that I love her. If you need to get a hold of me you can call me here or at the hotel.” When she was off the phone she turned to Philippe who was smiling. Obviously Spanish and Italian were close enough. “You told them the truth. That took a lot of guts.” Settling back into bed, Philippe closed his eyes. It was way too early to be facing the world. “They saw about the hurricane on the news. They‟re worried. Aren‟t you worried?” Now painfully awake Ceilo was not sure she could go back to sleep. “Look out the back door.” Not wanting to face the reality of the day, he pointed her in the right direction. “Oh my God. Oh my God.” Waves were lapping up to the base of the foundation already, and the brunt of the storm was still eighteen hours away. “Your house?” Turning back towards the bed, Ceilo knew the answer already. “Even here on the West End we will still have ten feet of storm surge. Unless it turns away my house is going to be gone. That‟s the reality of living on an island.” Never once opening up his eyes, Philippe knew this yesterday. The whole day and night he knew what was in all likelihood going to happen, but had chosen not to discuss it. “How can you be so calm about it? This is your home.” If he house were destroyed was would go right along with it. All her things and her family possessions meant so much to her life. Falling back into bed she was staring down at him now from her knees. “God gave me this house. It was not mine to begin with. If he chooses to take it away who am I to argue? I will simply take what is left of the old one move it further away from the beach and build another one.” Ceilo did not understand this idea. He could see from the scrunched up lips and eyes. “When I wake up this morning I will borrow a truck from a friend and take everything that means something to me in this house out and store it in the governor‟s house. That is really all I can do. Trying to fight mother nature is impossible. She always wins.” Finally opening his eyes he reached his hands under the tee shirt onto her stomach. “What are you doing?” His fingers tickled her belly button. Laying on top of him, she held his arms out to the side. “How are you feeling this morning?” Apparently she was not going to let him sleep. “Mentally I am a train wreck. Physically only slightly the better.” Her lips were inches from his cheek again. Kissing him slowly from his chin to his eye lid, she tried to forget everything. His lips moved from the top of the her shirt up her neck. “Mmmmmm.” The sound from her throat woke him up again. “Can I get another hour or two worth of sleep? Otherwise I will be cranky all day. You don‟t want to see me like that.” There was no verbal answer, her head slid down onto his belly. Kissing him gently several times, she was driving him crazy. “If you keep doing that there is no way I will sleep.” This kind of teasing was ripping him apart inside. Never had a girl inadvertently teased him more than this. Pulling off the shirt and panties she slid her naked body up against his side. “Now that is just tremendously unfair…” Her finger rested against his lips. It took longer for him to fall asleep then he expected but once there he had the most wonderful dreams. It was nearly ten thirty when he woke up again. This time it was not the phone that got him up it was a loud horn. Staggering towards the front door, he came face to face with Julito. Behind him was large moving van. “Can I have the keys to the pick up?” Having realized that the Philippe would need a way to move his things, and the resort would need the pick up back, Julito had driven out here as soon as he woke up. “Yeah give me a second.” Coming back from the kitchen table he had to smile. “Thank you. I was just getting up to come and get one of those.” They were so much like family now it was frightening. They looked out for him like the kid brother. “Yeah I can see you were just getting up.” Looking down at the front of his shorts, Julito laughed and walked away. “The door to the storage shed is open at the house. Don‟t put any animals in there this time Noah. Remember how pissed off Dad was last time.” With a wave and smile he disappeared down the driveway. \ In response to Hurricane Mitch and the severe flooding that it brought, Philippe had taken several of the iguanas and a couple of stray cats to the shed along with his furniture. The governor nearly disowned him for that. “Who was that?” Stretching out like an alley cat, Ceilo was awake again. “Santa Claus.” Putting the truck keys, he jumped onto the bed. “Are you ready to pack up Chez Lacroix with me?” A nod and smile signaled the official beginning to their day. Impressed by how strong Ceilo turned out to be they loaded his bed and nearly all the substantial keepsakes in the back. The only things remaining were the heavy pieces of furniture. Just when he was about to right them off, another Anthony‟s Key pick up pulled up in front of him. When Christian stepped out Philippe braced himself for trouble. “I thought maybe you might need a hand packing up the house.” Maya called him at eight in the morning to tell him how much of an jerk he was. Considering all diving and hotel activities were cancelled he was able to blow off the resort for the rest of the day if he wanted. All the boats had already been secured and the hatches were battened down on the dive shop. A mandatory evacuation for the resort was bringing most of the tourists to the Tan. They would be ferried over to the mainland at noon if the governor decided this was necessary. “Thanks.” There was no mention of the night before, as they carried the old mahogany and pine pieces onto the truck. In fact it was not until they began unpacking at the other end, that Christian really said anything to him at all. “I‟m a prick when I drink. I hope you know that.” Incredibly hung over, and dreadfully tired, Christian did not have the energy for a fight. “Do you remember what you said or did someone tell you?” Not that it really mattered, Philippe was curious more than anything else. “Maya recounted what Paul had told her. Honestly I don‟t remember a thing.” Not lying in the least, Christian lost contact with reality around one a.m. “Then I will tell you the last thing I told you again. Do you think I wouldn‟t give up every girl I have bed in my lifetime for one night with my mother, father, and sister?” Not wanting to dredge up his anger, he concentrated on the moving to keep his mind off of it. “Understand something man. I spend ninety percent of my time thinking with the little head. That‟s all that was talking last night. My heart and noggin know better.” Stopping for a second he reached out his hand in friendship. “There is more to life than getting lucky. Trust me on that one.” Just as he finished shaking his hand Ceilo came into the shed with Carolina and her two sons. “I see that you boys have it all under control. Now what do we do hunker down?” Having never faced a natural disaster that involved pre-warning she turned about aimlessly. There had been mild earthquakes on occasion in Northern Italy but never hurricanes. “Now is when you help all your friends get prepared. Then if it is a category one or two you get royally pissed and laugh your way through the storm. Category three you have a couple of drinks but stay sober enough to react should your roof come off. Category four you have one beer or a shot as a sacrifice to the Gods and you get to the highest ground possible and pray for a last second deviation. Category five you bend over and try to kiss you‟re a....” Holding up a finger as he spoke Christian led them all through the progression. Everyone except Ceilo laughed at what he had “What category are we expecting here?” They all seemed to be quite cavalier about the way they addressed this impending doom. Everyone turned to face Julito knowing that he was a closet meteorologist. “Well that is all dependent on the cold front pushing down from the north. If comes in today as they suspect it will Wilma will be picked and slammed into Cozumel. If it takes longer to get here than that the storm will continue to track west and smack us head on. Anywhere between tropical storm and category four conditions are possible within the next 24 hours.” If he had the blue screen behind him and a pointer, Julito would have looked like a television meteorologist. Even as he spoke his hands performed circles in the air. “This has been Javier Martinez reporting live from the Honduran Weather bureau.” His young brother Julio was poking fun by using the name of the most famous local meteorologist in Honduras. “Laugh it up Julio when the Tan is sucked into the ocean like Atlantis we‟ll see whose laughing then.” His memories of hurricane Mitch were not only painful but quite clear. Having been forced to identify several bodies of people in the town, Julito would never mock the destructive force of nature. “If that is true I don‟t think any of us will be laughing. Until that point I need to head into town and lend a hand.” They all nodded at Philippe. Known as a jack-of-all-trades he was in high demand come hurricane season. Putting up plywood and shutters on nearly all the restaurant and bars, he would spend much of the rest of the day covered in sawdust. “Well we have to secure up the Key so I must say ado.” Pointing towards Christian and his little brother Julito was ready to move into action. “Lets take a quick half an hour and set up this place.” They all nodded in unison. One of the oldest residences on Roatan the 17th century sub structure had been fortified and replaced numerous times. Most recently in 1998 after Mitch tore several of the roofs off, a complete refortification and renovation had rendered the home indestructible. “The back up generator is stocked with gasoline however just in case why don‟t you give me a hand putting together supplies.” Taking Ceilo by the hand “the girls” stepped inside to prepare the post storm provisions while “the boys” gathered the ladders. The governor‟s mansion had yet to be put fully to the test with several storms producing only glancing blows. The fixed shutter system took less then thirty seconds a window and two minutes a sliding glass door to install. Only there were nearly eighty windows and twenty sliding glass doors to account for. Being the fourth time this year that they had to do this the boys were quite proficient by now. “That must be a record?” With several pitchers of freshly squeezed lemonade in hand, Carolina stepped out to the back porch. “You received a dozen calls from the West End at least.” Handing Philippe a stack of messages, his adopted mom kissed him on the cheek. “The world needs you my boy. Take the service truck and get to work.” Pushing him towards the ten-car garage. “Would you like to join me?” Looking back at Ceilo he was not sure if watching him install hurricane protection was her idea of a good time. “Very much. I want to help too.” Running off to join him they disappeared towards town. The roads leading into the west end looked like a Los Angeles freeway. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic. Most of them were lined up outside the three gas stations leading into town. As always there was a run on gasoline knowing full well that after the storm there would be shortages, and even those places that had gas would have no electricity to work the pumps. Off roading around the outside of the delay, Philippe found himself breaking every traffic rule known to man. “This is crazy.” Never had Ceilo seen such chaos and disorganization in all her life. Two men were cursing loudly and pushing one another because one of them tried cutting into line and dented his bumper. “My dear you haven‟t seen nothing yet. God forbid we have to go to the grocery or hardware stores today.” The West End was like a tourist ghost town. For once the only people roaming the streets were locals. “Hey there‟s the man of the hour.” Several of the storeowners were waiting at the Twisted Toucan when he arrived. “Okay Kevin you have all the boards from last time yes?” There was an almost obsessive compulsive method to his madness. Every board was conspicuously labeled with specific directions for it‟s installation. “Top board northwest corner of the 2nd floor parlor.” All of the people on his installation route were required to show up at the Toucan. Much like the Amish barn raisings in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Philippe brought the whole group together at each location. There were never a shortage of hands. Most of his crew today looked like they had been run over by a tractor trailer. “I still haven‟t gone to sleep yet.” Kevin‟s eyes were a wonderful shade of bloodshot red and Paul was still wearing the same clothes from the night before. “Damn Wilma doesn‟t care that we are hung over boys.” Always the slave driver in these situations Philippe pushed them all. Whenever someone lit up a spliff or cracked open a beer he was there to put them back in order. Four and half hours later they had boarded up some twenty-two locations including three hotels. Nearly half of the starting number had faded along the way until they were left with only ten people at Villa Del Sol. “Not that I really care, but we are the only white people left.” Until now Ceilo had not even noticed this strange but obvious fact. “That is the story of my life.” Not the least bit concerned by her observation, he placed the last three wing nuts on the plywood on the bay side. “What time is it?” Sucking on a Vita Malt Philippe was trying to get his second wind before Wilma got hers. On the normally sunny eastern horizon a long line of high level gray clouds had begun forming. The lower level nimbus formations were flying by at unnatural speeds. It looked as though someone were showing a high speed progression video in the sky. “I can not believe how calm the air is. There is not a breath of wind anywhere.” Being so close to the ocean there were constant winds anywhere between ten and thirty miles an hour. No matter the time of year there was always a breeze. Except for now. The air was completely dead. As if to signal the final retreat of a large flock of birds flew westward over their heads. “What time is it?” Having not gotten an answer the first time, he tried again. “Sorry it‟s four thirty.” Most of the sky in one corner or another was filled with flocks from five to a hundred birds migrating westward. They obviously knew something was wrong, and were abandoning their local roosts for safer locations. “Okay we have one more stop and then we dive.” His words flew right over her head as though Ceilo had not heard them at all. It was not until they were back on the road again that she even acknowledged him. Chapter 18: The Dolphin “Did you say dive?” Was he serious? The look on his face was nearly always the same and so too was the tone of his voice. “Yes dive. You still want to live your dream right!” They pulled into his driveway at close to five o‟clock. It was relatively easy to clean out the household of someone who lives day to day. With all his furniture and appliances sitting in the barn at the governor‟s residence there were only the cupboards and drawers to worry about. “Do you think this is a particularly safe time to dive?” Waves were already washing up against the back of his house. Some of the salt water had even made it into the kitchen. Finding it hard to concentrate on any one thought, she drifted off like so many children with attention deficit disorder. “I can not believe how many batteries and cans of Chef Boy Arde ravioli you have in these cupboards.” The nearly three hundred batteries of all sizes and brands plus the dozen cans of ravioli boggled her mind. “Who lives like this?” Never asking the question aloud, Ceilo certainly thought it. “Relatively neat and organized for a bachelor huh?” Truthfully it was quite neat. There was very little trash to speak of. What had Ceilo shaking her head was the non-intimacy of it all. There appeared to be nothing to gauge Phillip Lacroix‟s personality from. No love letters, photographs, coupons, or even junk mail. His cans and boxes of food were relatively new and tended to be dozens of replicas of the same thing. “Are you sure we should go diving?” Assuming it would take too long to understand the mind of man, Ceilo went back to her earlier concern. “Personally I think it is a horrible idea.” Carrying all three of Ceilo‟s suitcases Christian walked into the kitchen “Don‟t worry I didn‟t look through any of it. No one will be allowed at the resort for the rest of the week, so I brought it all over.” Plopping it down on the floor he approached Philippe who was watching a wave strike the back of his house. “Foundation is being washed out. I give it four hours tops.” The two young men drew long deep breaths and shrugged their shoulders. “I was going to take her to the hole real quick. Figure if it is safe for them, it has to be pretty safe for us as well?” Philippe‟s confidence in this plan seemed far stronger than that of the other instructor. “Yeah well they are used to be underwater. She‟s a novice.” Another large wave smacked the back sliding door so hard, they both backed up thinking the glass might shatter. “They?” Grabbing both of their arms and Ceilo drug them towards the front door. They took her luggage along the way. “You‟ll see when we get there.” Christian shook his head and looked ready to stop Philippe at any second. “Are you worried I might die? Think about that for a minute.” Standing between the two boys Ceilo wanted to make it clear that she was willing to take some risks given her physical situation. “Come on we don‟t have time to waste.” A loud crashing noise came from the rear of his house. No one turned to walk back and check it out. His rear facing doors had given way to the sea. “Good luck.” Tapping on the door frame and crossing his chest, Philippe came out the front door. “Are you kidding me?” Standing in the front yard was a lone iguana with his head turned to the side like an attentive puppy dog. “What is wrong with you Jean Marc? The rest of your kind has the sense to get out of here, and there you sit.” His heart sank a bit as he thought of all the stray and wild animals on this island that would be killed or left homeless. There was nothing he could do for them now. It was too late. “Let‟s go.” Struggling to pick the forty plus pound lizard off the ground, he carried him to the back of the work truck and dropped him in. “What are you going to do with that?” Christian‟s face was almost the same green color as the iguana‟s skin. “Take him to the highlands with the rest of his kind. Obviously the big dope doesn‟t know any better. I had to take him up there in ‟98 as well.” Philippe could think of nothing else to do. If he left Jean Marc there he might simply wait for the ocean to sweep him right out to sea. “Well I guess this is goodbye until after the storm.” Hugging Ceilo, Christian took his time letting go. “I will see you soon.” Without so much as a handshake, Philippe hopped into the truck. “Enjoy your dive?” Shaking his head disapprovingly, Christian walked away. His path would take him to a friend‟s house up on the hill. It was certainly safer than the resort, but not necessarily indestructible. All of the boats except one had been pulled from the water when they got to the dock. Several of the locals looked at Philippe as though he were thoroughly insane. “You‟re not going out in this are you?” His words were in Creole, so Ceilo did not have the benefit of understanding them. “Sure why not, at least the dive sites won‟t be crowded?” Not one of the old men laughed. They merely shook their heads and drove away. “They think we‟re crazy don‟t they?” Not as brave as she had been earlier, Ceilo was reaching into her bag to get medicine. “No medicine yet unless you have to. Although we are going very shallow most prescription drugs don‟t react well when you add in compressed air and increased nitrogen levels in your blood. To be quite honest, this is completely insane to do this like we are. However, since this may be the last chance…” Without explaining anything to her like he normally would have, Philippe strapped all of the tanks down, and hooked up the scuba equipment in silence. “It‟s getting a bit dark?” The day was approaching five o‟clock and the first line of hurricane squalls was less than two hours away. “Do you trust me?” Stopping what he was doing for just a brief moment Phillipe turned to Ceilo and took her face in his hands. “With my life.” There was no hesitation in her voice. “Then zip the lip and listen up. You are going to get a crash lesson in scuba diving during a twenty minute boat ride.” Handing her a series of waterproof slides marked; Introduction to Scuba Dive, Philippe gunned the boat away from the dock. Considering what was coming to them and how far away it was, the wave height was not much higher than a bad winter‟s day. Three to four foot chop with on shore winds. Most of the swell was coming in the form of tidal waters not waves. The largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere had more than its share of advantages. Right now the fact that it blocked out wave action was the one Philippe appreciated most. “So if I get water in my mask I hold the top with my palm like this and blow out of my nose.” Trying to imitate the tablets, Ceilo showed him what she would do. “Your mask for seeing. Your regulator is for breathing. Your octopus is a back up to your regulator. Your tank holds the air. Your pressure gauge tells you how much air you have left. Your buoyancy compensator device (BCD) is like a bulky life vest that can be inflated to keep you on the surface or deflated to bring you to the bottom. Your weight belt helps you to sink. Well that‟s just about it.” This was not the way to teach someone to dive. It was the way to teach someone to die. Never had he been so reckless with the life of another human being. “Magnificent. Diving is quite easy if you remember these few important things. Number one; always take long deep breaths through your mouth just like you do on land. Number two; never try to bolt for the surface if you have a problem. Your BCD inflator is not an emergency buoyancy device. Do not push this to go up. Number three; never hold your breath at anytime. If you are ascending you go slowly and do not hold your breath. Number four; your dive buddy is your best friend. Never ever leave his side. Number five don‟t panic. Most of what seems like an emergency underwater would be nothing special if you were on land. Treat the two the same.” Sitting her down on the side of the boat, Philippe pulled up to a large white buoy. “Why is the ocean a different color here?” With most of the trip taking place over waters of green and brown she was surprised at this one section of deep blue in the middle of it all. Looking down her stomach dropped. It was as if she were standing at the precipice of the Grand Canyon. “They call it a blue hole. During the last ice age this area was above the ocean. Large caves went down into the earth. When the ocean covered them up some of those cave openings collapsed. This would be one of them. Roughly translated the name of this space is dolphin hole.” Trying to concentrate on all of things she had just learned Ceilo was not really paying attention until he said the final words. “Dolphins? Are this the theys you were referring to earlier?” Her mouth was spread in a widening grin that started from her toes and went to the end of her pony tail. “The rules again. Number one; always take long deep breaths. Number two; never bolt for the surface. Number three; never ever hold your breath. Number four; never leave my side. Number five; don‟t panic.” Counting down the rules again, Philippe got dressed in his equipment, and then slowly put on hers. “This stuff is really heavy.” Wondering how she was going to swim with all this on, she was panicking a bit again. “Once you are in the water it weighs nothing. Okay moment of truth now put this in your mouth.” Placing the regulator in her mouth he waited for her eyes to grow smaller. “Breath in and out just like you did with the snorkel. There you‟ve got it.” Slowly her smile began to come back. “Okay now you put your hand on the mask and snorkel. Lean your head forward and fall over backwards. Watch me and then do the same.” Adding some more air to her inflated jacket he sat down next to her. Then without warning he did a backwards roll into the ocean. Almost immediately he popped back up to the surface. As if imitating a little teapot he signaled her that he was okay. “Okay see how easy that is. Now it is your turn.” Pulling the regulator from his mouth to talk, he motioned for her to go. “Hand on the mask and regulator, duck my head forward, and roll.” After signing the cross she did exactly what she was told. The ocean felt surprisingly cold when she struck. For all of two or three seconds she was disoriented. Luckily with the air in her buoyancy device she popped right back to the surface like a cork. Her signal for okay brought Philippe to her side. Kissing her on the cheek he got her in position above the blue hole. “Okay I am going to slowly let air out of both of BCD‟s. We will start to sink. Make sure to breath and look into my eyes. Remember there is nothing I can not handle underwater that I can not above.” Kissing her forehead this time, he slowly let the air out of both their jackets and they started to sink At first Ceilo could not get herself to breath. Something innately programmed into her brain said do not breath. Pointing to his mouth, Philippe kept her from going down until she took deep breaths. Pinching his nose he reminded her to blow out to equalize the pressure in her ears. “Just like you do when you are flying in an airplane except a lot more often.” His words came back to her in spurts. Never taking her eyes away from his, Ceilo was surprised when they came to rest on a ledge. Turning her head to the side now she could see the vastness of the hole below them. Instead of being frightened she was awe inspired. This was the most amazing experience on earth. Her excitement only increased as thousands of multicolored tropical fish closed in around her. Thinking that nothing could get better than this, she stopped breathing when she saw it. There was something coming up out of the darkness. She recognized the shape almost immediately. Chapter 19: Dreams really do come true On the boat Ceilo had a million reservations about this dive. First off she‟d never been in the water with scuba equipment on. Secondly there was a category four hurricane bearing down on them. Lastly this was it. This was the culmination of more than a decade of nightly dreams. Consequently she went from not breathing at all to hyperventilating. If she had continued along this path there would have been severe repercussions. More than likely she would be broken one of Phillipe‟s rules and someone would have gotten hurt. All of this changed when she saw it. Suddenly not of her concerns mattered anymore. Suddenly it was six thirty in the morning. Out of the darkness her night in shiny flippers was approaching. It was happening. This was the moment she had been waiting for. A lone male dolphin approached her from below. It started in the deepest darkest depths of hole, and started up. The closer it came to being visible the slower it moved, until it stopped its ascent all together. Just outside of her focused field of vision it paused. The animal appeared to be wary of her. It wasn‟t sure what to do. Alba turned her head down, and was about to chase after it. Phillipe grabbed her arm and shook his finger. He removed a grease pencil and a white slate from inside of the pocket of his buoyancy device. Wait for him to come to you. Ceilo‟s pupils which had been the size of oranges when they first got below the water were now closer to their normal width. Still it was obvious from the concern she showed that she did not have the patience to wait any longer. She had waited long enough. Trust me Ceilo. When he’s ready he will come to you Above their heads Wilma was moving in quickly. The winds had begun to howl, and the waves were kicking up. Even here in what many locals considered to be a hurricane hole, there were white caps on the surface. During hurricanes this was where the local wild dolphins came for safety. They hid at depth and waited for the storms to pass. Here forty three feet below the surface there was only a gentle sway to the current. Above the top of the hole it was ripping for to five knots enough to rip a the mask right off your face. Down here it was calm and quiet. Phillipe took her hand in his own, and lead her towards the edge. He knew how this would work. This was nothing new for him. In order to clam her down, he pointed upwards so Ceilo could take her focus off the final prize. It was a good tactic. When she stared at the nearly cylindrical shaft going up and up above her towards the gray above her trepidation vanished. Ceilo had no idea how far down she was, but it felt like a mile in her estimation. Gently nudging her to bring her back to reality, he moved her towards the edges of the shaft. Her attention was instantly drawn by long worm like projections which grew out of the limestone and trailed down as far as ten or fifteen feet long. Scattered in amongst them were fish, sponges, and corals so tiny she had to strain to see them. Ceilo spent so much time spinning and pining her head around to see the next biggest best thing, she had neglected to realize the truth about the reef. Often it is not the shark or the turtle which should catch your eye the most. It is a snapping shrimp the size of quarter with its miniature pinchers and bright orange bands. It‟s not the stingy ray ten feet across it‟s wingspan you should be ogling at. Instead focus on the tunicate worm no larger than your thumb nail crawling up the side of a piece of sort coral. The micro world can be awe inspiring if people would only take the time to find it. Ceilo was mesmerized. Her focus was locked on all the tiniest creatures of the seas. She pointed and giggled at what looked like a piece of lettuce. It turned out to be a living animal. Phillipe would tell her later it was a frog fish. If she had been by herself Ceilo never even would have noticed that it existed. The camouflage it used was nearly perfect. If she hadn‟t frightened it accidentally with a swipe of her hand, and it moved, she never would have see it. She was so caught up in her new world, she didn‟t notice what was going on below. Phillipe did though. This was his world. He knew what was about to happen. The dolphin‟s name was Moses. None of the local fisherman knew for certain where this moniker had come from. There was sort of legend though which had been passed down from father to son. Apparently as the story goes. Eighteen years ago there were very few wild dolphins in around the Bay Islands, especially Roatan. One day this big male bottlenose dolphin just shows up. It‟s strange because males tend to travel either with other males or with pods of females. This one came all by himself. He hung around the fishing boats figuring out this was an easy way to get fed. Although there were nets and hooks everywhere you looked the big guy was smart enough not to get caught in either. Every couple of days he would show up near the native fishing villages for a handout. It was a common occurrence for almost five years, and then suddenly it stopped. Most of them assumed he had either died or moved on. Why would he stay there if he was the only one of his kind? One morning almost a year later, here comes that same dolphin. Only this time he‟s not alone. Trailing behind him is a pod of nearly a dozen females of breeding age. Within two years the pod had quadruples. Soon other pods of juvenile males came in from areas near and far. Now, the Bay Islands had one of the largest populations of wild bottlenose dolphins in the Caribbean, and all of them could be traced back to this one. They called him Moses. You might see the reason why. These days Moses almost never waited by the surface for hand outs. He didn‟t go to the fishing grounds anymore. Nearly all of his time was spent watching after his harem of females. The years of being an alpha male had taken their toll on the now forty year old bottlenose. His body was covered with scars from years of defending his pod and his right to mate. Moses was reaching the end of his domain. As often as people saw these gregarious mammals in these waters, there were seldom any scuba experiences with wild pods. Almost all of the dives people did were with trained animals. Anthony‟s key was no exception. Whether it was the bubbles or the sounds of the boats, no one could say for certain but this much was true. Wild dolphins did not approach divers with any regularity. Moses and Phillipe were the exception to the rule. Every time Philippe came to the blue hole, they would meet. More than one hundred eighteen dives later there had not been a single time that Moses did not arrive when he did. This did not mean however that they always got a play with each other. Sometimes Moses kept his distance. He had a sense about him to know which divers were safe and which weren‟t. From the way that Ceilo had been flailing around underwater, he knew she was inexperienced. Therefore he kept just out of direct sight. Now that she had settled in and was staring calmly at the wall and moved in to investigate. Chuckling to himself Phillippe held his hand out in front of the nearly eight foot long four hundred pound male bottlenose. Moses was massive, bigger than most females, which was surprising of the species. Turning his belly towards Phillipe, he was safe to be around. Moses began to a series of whistles and clicks when he was content. It was as if he were talking to Phillipe. From out of the darkness of the hole more dolphins sang back to him. Within seconds their song was all around him. Ceilo looked down, left, and right hoping to find the source of the raucous. Using his dive knife, Phillpe tapped the side of his tank. The clink of the metal could be heard for miles. Ceil spun around to see him. Inches away from him was the dolphin. It was the male from her dreams. Everything about them was identical. The scars the shape of his fins even his massive size was the same. Ceil nearly spit the regulator out of her mouth, catching at the last possible second before seawater entered. Moses and Phillipe both seemed to chuckle at the same time, nodding their heads up and down in unison. Down below them the noises had grown louder. The three of them were not alone anymore. Half a dozen female dolphins from fifteen to less than a year old were moving up towards them through the water column. Phillipe slowly and gently shuffled shuffled his right fin moving him gracefully towards her. In the ocean as on land he moved without expending any effort. Completely in tune with his environment he was more like the animals themselves then the clumsy humans who visited. Moses went down to join his pod. He herded them together, and they moved back towards them in unison. A few recent additions to their family kept near the rear protected by their older siblings and parents. Phillipe knew better than to try and approach the babies. This was a sure fire way to meet the aggression of what could actually be a rather dangerous animal. Taking Ceilo‟s hand in his, he moved her out into the center of the hole. They floated in the water column. He adjusted her buoyancy in her jacket so that she was perfectly in tune with the ocean around her. With each breath she took in, Ceilo rose two or three feet, and each time she exhaled she sunk two or three feet. He knew the key to making Moses comfortable was balance. When he was certain, she was in that place, he kicked his fin again, and moved away from her. A large grin covered his face. On the slate he jotted down a quick message and held it up for her to read. You’re ready and so is he. Remember to breathe Moses separated himself from the pod. They swam towards the edges of the hole just as Phillipe had done. Ceilo floated by herself hundreds of feet from the edges of the cavern. It was about to happen. How many times had she dreamed of this moment? How many times had the dolphin approached her from out of the darkness only to vanish at the last possible second? It wasn‟t going to happen this time. Inch by inch, second by second Moses moved in towards her. Not frightened by his size or the grandeur of the moment, Ceilo hung in the water. Her heartbeat grew faster. The pulse was in her ears again. This was it. This was the dream. Closet and closer he moved towards her. Inch by painfully slow inch he glided towards her. Their faces getting nearer and nearer to one another. She looked him right in the eye less than a foot apart now. What was he waiting for? What could possibly hold him back now? This wasn‟t going to happen. He was still too frightened… And then he leaned his rostrum that last twelve inches in towards her face. Ceilo closed her eyes as his mouth approached her regulator. In her head she heard that voice once again, only this time it was recognizable. It sounded like Phillipe was whispering into her ear. “Do not worry. I am your destiny.” When they touched it was as if God himself had reached down out of the heavens and caressed her face. Her breathing stopped. Her heart skipped too many beats to be real. Opening her eyes again, she saw him smile. In an instant it was over. As if the world had been moving to this moment, as soon as it was complete, Moses swam back down. His family followed close behind him. Slowly but surely they disappeared into the darkness below. Ceilo‟s hand reached down towards them, and she whispered. “Thank you.” Chapter 20: Garifunas When they got back to the surface again, it was as if they were in a whole other world from the one they had seen forty five minutes earlier. Several rainbands from the approaching storm were upon them already. Although the storm itself was still many hours away the winds were whipping nearly forty miles an hour. This little six passenger boat was not meant for eight foot seas and forty mile an hour winds. Phillipe and Ceilo did not have time to discuss the dive. She couldn‟t tell him how amazing the experience had been. If they did not get into shore quickly. They might very well not make it back again. The little outboard screamed as Phillipe opened up the throttle to its maximum. Each wave they went over the prop popped out of the water momentarily whining uncontrollably. As they reached the bottom of the trough they crashed down with a thunderous collision. Less than two miles off shore, he wasn‟t sure if they would make it back in. When the rains started, Ceilo began to pray. Driving by the heavy wins the moisture came in sideways blinding them. Phillip was moving strictly on instinct now. He knew where to go. He knew where they were headed. The big question was could they make it there. In the boat the water had begun to pile up. It was more than four inches deep at their feet, and getting deeper with each passing minute. “Come on you can do it.” When the engine choked two or three times, Phillipe encouraged it with his words. They were only a few hundred yards from the dock now, and still he couldn‟t see a thing. Years of experience were all that stood between life and death for them. “I‟m sorry Ceilo I think this might have been a bad idea…” The engine conked out. Their boat turned sideways and they were nearly swamped by an eight footer. Suddenly something slapped down on the water next to Phillipes hand. It was a line. Where had it come from. Not waiting for the answer to his internal question, he tied the rope to his cleat. Almost immediately the were being pulled with a great deal of force towards the shore. Finally when there were no more than five feet from the dock, Phillipe could see three men standing up there. Ceilo jumped backwards when she spotted the nearly naked men before her. They looked like something out of a National Geographic specials. They had tattoos on their faces, and one of them even had the large hoops in his ear and a bone through his lip. “Are you insane Phillipe?” Another one of them screamed. “Yeah you could say that.” The third man reached down to grab Ceilo. Although he was one half her size he had not problem pulling her up onto the dock. Phillipe jumped up next to them. The four men dragged the dive boat along the dock towards the shore. There was almost no conversation between the lot of them. They had a job to do, and everyone knew their place. When the boat was finally on shore , the pulled it a hundred yards towards a large enclosure. Ceilo had no idea what was going on, when one of the men walked her towards the pick up truck. She was getting nervous that no one was speaking. “What is he doing here?” The man hollered and pointed towards Jean Marc. The large iguana was still sitting patiently in the back of the truck. He was hiding underneath of a tarp only his tail was sticking out. “As usual the big dummy didn‟t leave with the rest of them.” Phillipe announced. “So you are taking him home?” The man spoke slowly. “I can‟t very well let him die now can I?” He responded snottily. “The rest of them are in our forest.? “They are.” Phillipe answered the cryptic question. “Come then we don‟t have time to waste here talking.” The three men got in another pick up truck. It was old and beat up with more duct tape than metal. Each panel of the vehicle was another color. “What was that all about?” Ceilo protested as they got in the pick up and slammed the doors. “His name is Fred, or at least that‟s what he is always had me call him. He‟s a tribal elder in the Garifunas.” Phillipe announced as though this should answer all the questions going through her mind. The conditions were getting bad quickly. On the paved roads it wasn‟t that bad but the higher up they went into the rainforests up above the beach where Phillipe lived the worse the roads were. It was slippery and muddy. Visibility was nearly non-existent. Ceilo was about to suggest that maybe this wasn‟t such a good idea when all of a sudden it just stopped. One second it was tropical storm force winds and rain thick as sheets, and then nothing. As if they had gotten up above the clouds the higher they went into the mountain the clearer the sky became. When they finally passed a little makeshift sign which read… Garifuna Reservation The sun actually came out of the clouds and the sky was blue. “Wow!” Ceilo couldn‟t tell where they were before, but now she could see it. They were driving on a muddy back road up the side of hill in the middle of a very dense forest. Up ahead of them was a fork in the road. On the right hand side she could see dozens of wooden huts and crudely built buildings. On the left there was only more forest. The pick up in front of them took the right fork but stopped in the road. Phillipe pulled up along side the passenger window. “Thanks Fred, I don‟t know what I would have done if you hadn‟t been there.” He nodded at the man. “You would have done what El Blanco Haitiano always does, survived by the skin of your teeth. I didn‟t do it for you.” Fred stared at Ceilo, shook his head, waved, and continued on towards his village. “It sounds like this sort of thing happens a lot.” Ceilo giggled. “Don‟t let them kid you… it happens all the time.” Phillipe responded sarcastically. They drove for about ten minutes into the forest until the came to a large wooden post. A tiny plaque written in both Spanish and English stated the obvious. Road Ends Here “Come on, let‟s get him situated and get out of here. Mom is probably getting nervous about now.” Reaching into the back of the truck bed, Phillpe helped Jean March out. Only this time he did not carry him. Instead he laid him down on the ground. The iguana shuffled clumsily across the uneven ground behind him. It trailed behind his feet like a love sick puppy. “Well what do you think buddy? This looks to be as safe a place as any to ride out the storm?” They came to clearing in the middle of hundred plus cypress trees. Jean Marc nodded his head up and down shaking his waddle as if to say hi. The loose skin below his chin bounced back and forth clumsily causing Ceilo to snicker. “Go on then, find a nice roost and take a nap. You‟re going to need your strength for tomorrow.” Jean Marc did not move. He lay there craning his head to the side staring at them. “We need to travel fast.” Phillipe grabbed Ceilo‟s hand and started walking back to the truck. Jean Marc followed. “What are you doing?” Phillipe spun around and Jean March stopped. When he turned around and went towards the tuck, the stubborn iguana followed again. This little game went on for like five minutes. Ceilo was in hysterics. Each time Phillipe turned around Jean Marc ran behind him and then when stopped the lizard stopped. “You can‟t come with me. The governor doesn‟t like your kind in his house.” Reaching into his front pocket, Phillipe withdrew a half a dozen Hibiscus flowers. “You are so spoiled I swear.” Using them like bread crumbs, he lead the iguana back towards the clearing. As he ate, Phillipe and Ceilo snuck back to the truck and drove away. “So how was your day?” He said as they went back down the mountain. “Oh you know just more of the usual.” They was laughing so hard by the time they got to gate leading into the Alvarez estate, Juanito was waiting for them there. He shook his head. “How many times have I told you… You don‟t get drunk or stoned during a hurricane preparation day.” This only caused them to cackle some more. “I want a little place like this for myself some day.” Ceilo joked. The governor‟s mansion was amazing, but what really made this place so special was the grounds themselves. With nearly forty acres it was as expansive as it was impressive. It reminded her of the old pictures she had seen of homes in the American South. Even the columns on the main house suggested this to her. “It used to be a sugar plantation back in the olden days..” Carolina was waiting for them near the front entrance. She took Ceilo in her arms warmly and kissed her cheeks then she turned to Phillipe and shook her head. “Sorry we were late, we got sidetracked.” His sheepish grin, took away from the ire in her glower. It was hard to stay mad at Phillipe. “Get inside before it gets dark. This is going to be a long night.” Carolina smacked his bottom as he passed. “Thank you so much for letting me stay here!” Ceilo announced. “Think nothing of it dear. We so happy to hear Phillipe was bringing you.” She waited until he was out of earshot to continue. “He never brings anyone here to see us.” Carolina winked at her. Ceilo‟s chest lifted and she swelled with a certain pride. It was nice to know she was that highly regarded. “Nice of you to join us!” Julito and the governor hollered at once as he approached. “Sorry there were other‟s in need.” He tried to explain himself. “Yes well remember whose house you are staying at.” Juan smacked his bottom as he passed as well. Phillipe wouldn‟t hear the end of this one for a while. That afternoon and evening was a blur. They worked tirelessly to get the inside of the house prepared for the storm. When dinner time came around they were all exhausted. Gathered around the living room they did not even bother to have a sit down meal. Instead everyone lounged around picking pieces of left over chicken quesadillas off their plates. “Eat it up, we don‟t want anything in the fridge when the power goes off.” Carolina announced. “Come on ma, we have a generator.” Julito cried. “Yes well you never know.” She insisted. The governor was on his phone constantly. Getting the Tan ready of a storm of this magnitude was a massive proposition. All of his emergency management folks and supplies were in position. There was nothing to do now but sit and wait. “I suggest we all get to bed early this evening. It is going to be a really long night and a crazy day tomorrow.” Carolina announced. Without hesitation, they all got up and went to their rooms. Ceilo and Phillipe started to help her clean up the dishes. “Hey that means you two. Get upstairs, I have this taken care of.” Carolina kissed them both and then pointed them away. Hand in hand they slowly ascended the double switchback staircase which dominated the front entry way. Above their heads was an 18th century chandelier the size of a Volkswagen. It was incredibly luxurious. “Where is my room?” Ceilo giggled like a teenager. “It‟s right next to mine.” Phillipe said seriously. The look on her face spoke volumes. She was disappointed. “What if I get scared during the storm? Who is going to take care of me?” She whispered playfully and pulled his hand up next to her heart. Her aim wasn‟t very good though landing it on her left breast instead. Still for all her bravado when his finger accidently slipped across her nipple, her face turned bright red. “All you have to do is call my name, and I‟ll be right there.” They came to the two doors at the end of the hallway. Both had little signs taped to them Ceilo Phillippe. It was as if Carolina had anticipated this discussion in advance. “You bags are in the room already. If you need me, I‟m right next door.” Phillipe leaned over and kissed her cheek gently. His lips slid down to her neck sending shivers all up and down her spine. “I don‟t know how to thank you for today…” “Everyone should get to live their dreams.” Phillipe put a finger to her lips to stop her from thanking him. “Still I can‟t even tell…” “Tell me tomorrow. We need our sleep.” Her covered her lips again. “Well I guess this is good night then?” She whispered. “Good night.” He winked at her. Ceilo sighed deeply as she opened the door. She had gotten used to sleeping in the same bed with him the past couple of nights and was extremely disappointed that she would not get a chance to do it again. “Hi there.” Only when she was inside the room did she realize that these were both doors to the same room. They were going to get to cuddle again. What a perfect end to a perfect day Chapter 21: Uncle Guisepie “What‟s wrong you can‟t sleep?” Even in the vast darkness of a boarded room, her eyes stood out like an alley cat in the night. “Is it that obvious huh?.” Trying not to move around too much, Philippe stared aimlessly at the ceiling. “My uncle Guisepie was a third generation fisherman in Sicily. Unlike his grandfather or father he owned his own commercial fishing boat. It was his baby. Every spare hour of his days and nights was spent working on that boat. About fifteen years ago a nasty storm ripped through the Mediterranean and sunk his boat. For weeks he sat in his house drinking himself silly. Then one day he woke up through away all the empty bottles and went to the lumber yard. It took him another two years and every penny of his savings for the project, but he rebuilt the boat.” Philippe could see where she was going with this story. “Rebuilding my house is not the only thing on my mind.” There were a million thoughts going through his head. “How many storms have hit the Bay Islands over the centuries?” Maybe his concern was on a larger scale, Ceilo thought. “Hundreds. They‟ll survive.” Her attempt to lift his spirit was valiant. “What is that is really on your mind then?” A loud clicking noise came from the hallway, and the air conditioning cut off. For thirty seconds they lay there in utter silence, and then another click. A rumbling began somewhere on the western side of the house, and the air conditioner was back on. The generator had kicked in. “Power is gone. I‟m surprised it took this long.” What Ceilo had just said had Philippe thinking. What was really bothering him? Perhaps it was the addition of a million different factors? “Is it me?” This lingering question continued to bounce around in her head. Could he be worried about her? Was he worried about her leaving or dying or maybe both? There was a very quiet knock at the door. “Yes mom?” The family joked about his use of this word. Never would he think to call the Governor father. Physically they looked absolutely nothing alike; with one black and the other white. “Breakfast is ready.” Standing by the door, she could hear a feminine giggle from within. The corners of her mouth turned up. Someone like Ceilo was exactly what Philippe needed. Only? Biting her lip she tried not to think about where this was headed. How would he deal with losing another person in his life? “We‟ll be there in a moment.” Picking up Ceilo as if he were carrying his bride across the threshold, he walked her towards the door. “Maybe we should put clothes on?” Laughing uncontrollably she looked down at her night shirt and panties. “Why?” Kicking open the door, he walked down the stairs with her in his arms to the delight of everyone in the living room. “So what did we miss?” Several people clapped while others shook their heads. “Could I use the phone to call my parents before this party gets really out of hand?” Pulling down her night shirt over her knees, Ceilo attempted to draw the attention away from herself. “I have a calling card.” Reaching down towards her non-existent pocket, she elicited several more laughs. “Dad owns the telephone company. As a perk we get free calling anywhere in the world.” Little Julio caught a glimpse of her panties and turned shyly away. Setting a very embarrassed Ceilo down at the breakfast table, Philippe pointed her towards the nearest telephone. “How‟s our island holding up?” Usually the first up on the morning of a storm, Philippe felt totally out of touch on this morning. “Not too good. Five of the six electrical stations are not supplying power. Both of the water/sewage plants are running on back up generators. There is no phone line or cell signal to speak of. Plus all three radio stations are down. Before they went down, there was news of widespread flooding to the north and east. Talked to Bobby and three of the bungalows at the Key are severely damaged. On a happy note Wilma is finally tracking north so we should be spared the worst of nastiness.” No one was smiling or talking, they concentrated on every word he spoke. “Anyone particularly badly hit?” Sucking back a cup of black coffee big enough for a small family, Philippe had the wheels turning in his head again. “Don‟t even think about it. You are not going out in this.” Coming down the stairwell was the governor dressed quite casually in a large terrycloth robe. “Fisherman‟s Cove near Gorda took the brunt of the early winds.” Ignoring his father‟s advice was nothing new for Julito or Philippe. “The Garifunas?” During the 13th and 14th centuries when pirates and slave runners controlled these waters a number of ships ran aground on the massive barrier reefs. One such slave ship was marooned near Punta Gorda in the early fifteen hundreds. When the British showed back up to recover the shipwrecked slaves, they refused to leave. To this day they maintained their cultural and lingual independence. The Garifuna‟s reliance on antiquated ways of living and building left them particularly prone to hurricanes. “We could take one of the…” The youngest of clan Julio looked ready to jump into action at any second. “Perhaps no one heard me?” Not one to raise his voice in the presence of strangers, Juan was ready to horse whip his children. “Father you‟ve seen their houses?” The Honduran government had never outwardly acknowledged the Garifunas or their independent ways. Things were different here in the Bay Islands though. All attempts had been made to leave these people to their ancient traditions. Even land taxes and other municipal restrictions had been lifted for them here. They were for all intensive purposes a country within themselves. “The Garifunas and their descendents have been here for half a millennium. They will probably be here long after we are all dead and gone. Do you think they have never seen a hurricane?” Not one to be preached at, Juan was going to set the younger generation straight. “Fifteen of them died in ‟98.” The two youngsters pointed at Julito and nodded their heads as he spoke. Without responding, the governor walked over to the front door. Pulling some sort of electrical gadget off the wall he returned to them. Following behind him was Ceilo having finished her call to home. “I suspect after nearly a million dollars in education you can all read this little gadget. Please tell me Julio what that number is and what it means.” Looking directly into Ceilo‟s eyes he smiled confidently. “It says eighty five miles per hour.” Defeated in his tone, Julio knew where this conversation was going to end up at. “And the one above it?” Kissing his wife on the cheek he finally sat down at the table. “One hundred and ten miles per hour.” His voice grew quieter. “Tell Miss Bella what this means?” Kissing her on the cheek he bit into a pastry. “The winds are currently eighty five miles an hour outside and they topped out at one point this morning at one hundred and ten.” His brothers had ducked down their heads secretly happy that he had not chosen them. “Ceilo do you think it is safe for these boys to go outside in winds like these?” Covering his mouth so he did not spray her with crumbs, Juan looked quite confident in what her answer was going to be. “Honestly, I don‟t understand miles per hour?” Quite happy to agree with him if he were right, Ceilo grew up with the metric system. “Do you think these three should leave the house and go outside in one hundred and seventy kilometer an hour winds?” Raised on the British system, he hoped his conversion was accurate. ”1.609344 kilometers to every mile, would make it more like one hundred and thirty.” Philippe on the other hand was taught the metric system as youngster only recently converting to the quite useless British method. “Assuming that number is correct the gusts would be just short of one hundred eighty.” A mock pissing contest was taking shape amongst the boys. “I‟d say they should stay in here until the winds subside.” Not wanting to see them go any further, Ceilo jumped back in. Having never seen winds like these in her life, she could not fathom that sort of force. “Even if it means sacrificing the lives of others?” Not to put a fine a point on it, but that was exactly what they were talking about. “Do you know how many people a dead man can save?” Her last words ended the argument abruptly. “How much longer can we expect this?” Several loud smashing noises came from the west side of the house when she asked her final question, and there was instant darkness. “Oh hell, something hit the generator.” Reaching around in the pitch blackness they tried to find candles. A single light came from Philippe in the center of the room. “Smoking has it‟s advantages.” His lighter would not illuminate the huge living room, but it was enough to get him to one of a hundred flashlights and lamps that Carolina had stashed throughout the house. “You still want to go to Punta Gorda?” Practically running towards the back door, the governor wanted to survey the damage before it got any worse. Staying behind with Carolina, Ceilo grabbed the object closest to her. “Wow.” A final reading came from the wind meter shortly before it lost signal permanently. 210 kilometers an hour. Chapter 22: The Aftermath “The housing is completely smashed. Stator, motor, and solenoid are all irreparable. You might as well scrap it. We‟ll need to get the portable 6,000 watt out of the garage and hook it up. You can forget central air conditioning though. Now you see why I said we should build a shed for it?” Covered in grease and wind whipped, Philippe stood by the laundry room sink. Ceilo was picking leaves out of his hair, and shaking her head. There was no reason for him to go outside now, he could have done this later. “What can we run on that?” A bright man, but most certainly not an electrical engineer, Juan was resigned to be wrong on this one. It did not seem esthetically pleasing to him to build a new fangled shed next to a house like this. “On a house this size? Maybe the lights and a refrigerator.” Being right in this case did little to lift his spirits. Watching fifteen foot palm trees and roof tiles fly by him like pieces of paper had him slightly on edge. “If you move everyone into the guest quarters we could possibly have that building up and running on everything.” It was not meant to be a slap in the face that it turned out to be. Descending from long lines of Spanish royalty the Alvarez‟s of Barcelona would not be caught dead in the servant‟s quarters. A watered down lineage of Roatan blood mixing changed very little. There was still an outrageous pride factor to deal with. “I see. Well we will have to order another generator then. We could take the one from the resort if need be.” All of the guests had either been flown to the mainland or back to Miami this morning. Only a handful of employees had chosen to remain there. “Sure only it weighs half a ton?” Turning to the brothers, Philippe shrugged his shoulders. “There are five spare bedrooms in the guest quarters. We can stay there.” Turning to her husband with a look of shock and shame, Carolina put her foot down dramatically. “We can share some rooms and give you more room mame.” The head of the household may have been the governor‟s wife, but the true person behind the inner workings was Madeline. In charge of the day-to-day operations of the estate, she was more than willing to bunk up to help out the family that had helped her so much. “I will not stay in the servant‟s quarters.” The governor‟s brother practically turned his nose up at the very idea. “Fine than you can stay in here without power and lights. Personally I will be staying over there.” Taking Madeline by the hand, Carolina stomped off towards the kitchen. Her bloodline had little of the Spanish aristocracy of her husband in it. She was none too proud to live side by side with her staff. “That woman!” Cursing in Spanish, uncle turned the opposite direction and returned to his bedroom. “Forgive me for saying so governor, but your wife is right about this one.” Taking Ceilo by the hand, Philippe walked off towards the kitchen as well. The two boys who looked unappreciatively at their father followed shortly behind them. “In my own household?” Sitting down the finish his coffee, Juan dug his fingers into his matted black hair. One of the three satellite phones on his table rang. “Talk to me Carlos.” The head of his emergency management team was calling in to give an update and plan for a post storm recovery. Almost immediately following this call another of the phones rang. “Yes Peter where are we at?” This time it was the head of police. Most of the rest of his day would be spent on calls like this. A hurricane was a horrible emotionally draining experience, but it was nothing in comparison to the clean up from one. With the storm finally veering towards the north the heaviest winds let up around one in the afternoon. Inside the house except for the lack of electricity there was no sign that a hurricane had come through at all. Dressing quickly in the rattiest clothes they could find, Ceilo and Philippe decided to brave what remained of the storm to witness the aftermath of Wilma. Outside the comfort of the governor‟s mansion it looked as if someone had set off a bomb. Most of the ten acres of tropical foliage and landscaping was over turned and toppled. Where fifty-foot trees stood there were now bare branches and roof tiles on the ground. Pieces of tin roofs and refuse of all sort from miles away were scattered throughout the compound. Nearly two hundred yards of fence had been laid to ruin with less than a quarter of it remaining upright. “What in the world…” Ceilo was completely dumb struck by it all. Never had she seen such carnage like this. A sudden squall whipped up from out of nowhere blowing them sideways and soaking them to the bone with rain. As quickly as it came it was gone again. Throughout their walk they were hit again and again, with bone chilling wind gusts as high as thirty miles an hour. “It‟s hard to imagine when you‟re sitting inside?” Philippe barely took the time to look at the estate. His eyes looked down towards the oceanfront two miles away. If they had sustained this kind of damage he could only imagine what the poorly built local homes looked like. “Look at all this.” Bending down to pick up several palm fronds, Ceilo could not believe this was even the same place she had arrived at the day before. “Be careful what you touch and where you walk! You never know what is hiding in the debris.” Taking her arm, he used a stick to turn over the very fronds she was reaching for. Underneath them was downed power line. Walking her backwards they traced the line all the way to the pole on the street. “More than likely they are not live, but you don‟t want to find out the hard way that you are wrong? Never walk through puddles or pick up tree limbs until you have determined for certain that there are no hidden dangers. Something like fifty percent of all hurricane related deaths come after the storm.” Walking slowly through debris sometimes piled five feet high they finally arrived at the guest quarters. Unlike the main house these had not undergone the extensive renovations in 1998, so unlike the main house they had incurred rather severe roof damage. “All that just from wind?” The nightmarish transformation of the outside world started to work its way in her mind now. At first she was numb much like the people who witness storms on CNN or the Weather Channel. Although it is painful for them they can not truly grasp its significance until they too are directly affected. Trying to imagine or relate to what it feels like to experience a hurricane is much the same as an oil tycoon trying to relate to the impoverished. Sympathy is best people can do. “Unfortunately.” Taking a very deep breath, Philippe reached down to pick something up. Ceilo gasped when she realized what it was. “Stray cats. Everywhere you go on this damn island.” He may have sounded annoyed at the epidemic of feline encroachment, but the truth was Philippe was in pain. This six or seven week old kitten had been killed in the storm. There appeared to be no physical sign of what had done it, and yet she was most certainly dead. “What are you going to do?” Having grown up surrounded by dozens of cats, Ceilo was having a very difficult time looking down at the wet lifeless body. “I‟ll bury it.” Completely unaware of what he was doing, Philippe caressed the dead cat as they walked along. There was barely a blade of grass visible through the endless march of roof shingles and displaced leafs. Looking at the remaining trees one would have though they were in the northeast in early December. Completely devoid of leaves with several braches ripped from the trunks it looked like a wasteland of winter‟s death. The only thing missing was the snow. Salt water carried by the winds stuck to all the green that remained. Combined with sand particles from the beaches that stuck in every nook and cranny of every orifice exposed to air, they had choked out every living plant on Roatan. Once beautiful strands of flowers and bushes were stripped bare and defenseless by the seemingly never ending assault. As a new batch of showers and wind struck down upon them, Philippe and Ceilo braced themselves and moved towards the shelter of a dilapidated green house. Once inside their move appeared pointless as nearly all of the glass panels had been shattered. Rain continued to pour down upon them as Philippe dug deep into the earth with an old flower pot. “It looks like a war zone?” Watching Philippe carefully bury the first casualty of this battle, Ceilo wondered how many more they would find. It was heartbreaking. “Lets go inside and check on everyone.” After saying a silent prayer, they moved into the guest quarters. Other than wet spots on the drywall and ceilings there appeared to be little or no damage to the modest accommodations on the first floor. Everything changed when they mounted the stairs. At least a dozen men, women, and children were struggling to no avail to hold back the new barrage of water which poured through several large openings in the roof. All of their possessions and furnishings were soaked beyond repair. “Where are the tarps?” Yelling above the whistling winds, Philippe tried to get someone‟s attention. Expecting something like this he had placed five large blue tarps in the storage room of the house. “The winds are too strong. We lost two of them already trying to put them up during the storm.” With a large gash on his forehead a man Philippe recognized to be one of the gardeners Pedro. “Ceilo please take the kids downstairs.” Inside the house the winds sounded much worse than they did outside whipping around scattering belongings in every direction. Philippe could only imagine the freight train they must have heard during the heart of the Wilma. “Where are the other three?” Out from under a bed, Pedro pulled the three tarps one at a time. Philippe grabbed pieces of broken furniture, then running to the hall cabinet, he took out a hammer and nails. “Give me a boost.” Doing his best Spiderman impression, Philippe grabbed a hold of hanging roof beam and pulled himself up through the opening. Once on top he carefully worked both himself and the tarp into position. Having done this a million times during post storm conditions, he was fully aware of the perils of holding a huge parachute like tarp while balancing on a damaged roof. His difficulties were quadrupled by the heavy winds which threatened to blow him and the tarp two stories to the ground. Unraveling the tarp inch by inch he hammered the wood into place. Mercifully the winds and rains died down after a couple of minutes. With help from two of the other inhabitants of the guest house, they had all the holes temporarily patched within an hour. The permanent damage though had already been done. All of their possessions on the second floor, the entire contents of three family‟s residences, were unrecoverable. Plus the amount of water that had poured down into the drywall and wooden panels of the lower floors, would almost certainly require them to be ripped out as well. “Now who wants to tell me what kind of lizard this one is?” When Philippe came down the stairs Ceilo had all of the kids gathered around a small lizard which had found its way through a broken window. “It‟s a gecko!” On a couple of her “let‟s identify the animal questions” there had been language barriers with the Spanish as a first language children. Not with this one though, nearly all of them knew the name. “How do you say gecko in Spanish?” Watching her with the children should have lifted his spirits or at the very least made him smile, but it did not. All Phillipe could think as he watched her there was that she would never have children of her own. “Dragon.” Turning around to face him now, Ceilo smiled. All of the children clapped and pointed towards him while giggling. “That‟s very good, the teacher will give you a star after class.” Following him down the stairs, the various mothers and father gathered their children back up. “Thank you sir. I don‟t know what we would have done without your help.” Practically weeping Pedro took his hand and could not stop shaking it. “Try to get as much of the water dried up as you can. When I can I will get back over here and repair the holes.” Although it made his heart feel good to help people, it also felt very awkward accepting their thanks. To Philippe it felt like an obligation as one human being to help another. For this he deserved no thanks or recognition. “Here comes the rain again.” Another wave of showers moved in from the north. This rain band was far weaker than the previous few barely filling the already overflowing puddles. “Makes you want to live in Italy doesn‟t it?” Trying her best to smile through everything she‟d seen Ceilo took his hand to her lips and kissed it. “Earthquakes, volcanoes, blizzards, tsunamis, or tornadoes take your pick; just about everywhere you go in this world you‟ll have to face one of them. Nature is cruel.” Pulling what looked like a dead butterfly from out of one of the windswept Jasmine tree, Philippe kept right on walking as if it were nothing in particular. “You have to keep reminding yourself that for all its tragic cruelty there is an infinite amount of beauty.” Blowing into his palms for several seconds, Philippe stopped next to another Jasmine. When his fingers opened this time the little yellow and black swallowtail perked up. Fluffing and shaking itself against the warm air that he breathed, the baby butterfly flapped its wings and flew away. “Do you think that any people died in the storm?” Finding it difficult to focus on the half full cup, Ceilo looked east towards the ocean. “More than likely.” Mitch killed an astounding seven times the number that Katrina had, with another nearly ten thousand were reported missing. Most of those were in the mountains of Honduras where scantily clad shanties were ripped from the hillside in flash floods and mudslides. Roatan only received category one winds whilst the mainland had gusts measured up to one hundred eighty miles per hour and still twenty three people died on the island. “What can I do to help?” Literally pulling up her sleeves, Ceilo turned to him and clapped her hands. “Come on what are you waiting for?” Faking a smile and winking she looked ready for anything. “Please go back to the house and let them know you are all right, then we can save the world.” … Imagine waking up to a Mack truck crashing through your living room window. Can you picture the chaos and fear this would create? Now imagine this truck is fifty miles long and continues to barrel through that front window for five hours. Christian passed out shortly after midnight having broken his own rule. He had been drinking heavily with several of his mates. Shortly after nine a.m. he was awaken by an un-Godly noise unlike anything he had ever experienced. Looking up from his bed he could see clear up into the heavens. The roof on the house he was holed up in had not just failed, it had lifted up and floated away. There was something different about the winds and clouds that were hitting him. This was not a part of the hurricane. It looked more like a tornado? Seconds. He had seconds in which to react. “Get to the bathroom.” Without basements due to the obvious water table issues, island children and tourists alike are told to go to the bathroom in case of roof failure. Often made of reinforced drywall or concrete block with no windows it tends to be the safest room in the house. As he reached for his bedroom door the wall in front of him began to shudder violently. Seconds later it broke lose striking him full on in the chest. Four hours later Christian woke up. Taking a moment to gain his bearings, and feeling raindrops on his face, he looked around at the unfamiliar environment. “Where is the house?” Lying on the bedroom floor beneath several pillows and blankets, he came to a hellish conclusion. The house was gone. Every wall, door, window, and piece of furniture had been completely blown away. The only things left behind were the plumbing fixtures and the oven. Every thing else, even the refrigerator was gone. Nothing could prepare him for this. Sitting on the foundation of where a house had once been was debris. A dreadful thought jumped into his head. “Peter. Gary. Ronald.” Trying to stand up he felt enormous pain from his lower back. He never even made it to his knees. Reaching down to his legs he felt nothing. Panic came over him in an instant. “Peter! Gary! Ronald!” There was no response from anywhere. Searching around the scattered remains of the house he desperately needed a cell phone. Only there was none to be found. “Hello! Is anyone out there?” His words caught up in the wind, and no one responded. Reaching his hand behind himself, he felt something very wet and sticky. Afraid to bring the hand forward, he yelled one more time for help. “HELP! IS ANYONE OUT THERE?” Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and looked down. His hand was covered in blood. “Oh Jesus Christ I‟m dying.” … Chapter 22: Casualties “Where should we start?” Having convinced Juan that the time was at hand for search and rescue operations to begin, they hit the road. Only there was no road to drive on. Every fifty yards or so the path was blocked by a downed tree or a stop light. By the time they got to the main road nearly an hour later, Philippe threw up his hands. “Well we aren‟t starting anywhere next to the water that‟s for sure.” Looking in both directions there were dozens of telephone and electrical poles down in succession with wires sticking out at unnatural angles. “Ever use a chainsaw?” Grinning at his passenger, Philippe picked up the satellite phone and called back to the governor. “At five dollars a minute this better be good?” There was no hello or cordial greetings. “The ocean road is completely impassable. You may want to concentrate the work project and corps of engineers there.” Barely waiting for a response, Philippe spun the truck back around towards the mountain road. “I‟ll make the call.” Hanging up abruptly the governor‟s next call was to the emergency management headquarters in Coxen Hole. The ocean road was the main artery to all of Roatan. If emergency vehicles could not pass on it, thousands of needy or injured citizens could be stranded. “Since we can‟t go to the beach on the north side, I am thinking we should check up on Christian and then try the South?” There was no argument from Ceilo who honestly had not figured out the directional aspects of the Tan yet. Besides her attention was on the utter devastation all around her. “I think we might be the only car on the road?” Several pedestrians and concerned citizens had come out onto the streets to view the swath of destruction and begin the extensive clean up process. However, not one of them was driving anywhere. “Yeah we appear to be the only crazy ones.” Unlike the ocean road which was nicely paved and well maintained the mountain road was a scattering of pavement and gravel. Plus it ran from east to west while the ocean road circled Roatan. There was not a single car or truck to be found anywhere. Trees were the main problem here instead of telephone poles. Most of the protected nature preserve was now a scattering of hardy trees hanging on for life, interspersed with the downed weaker and older ones. “Big tree. Big Tree!” Pointing towards the road, Ceilo could see a huge Fichus covering the road up ahead. “Yeah I see it.” The first option would be to cut off the protruding limbs so that he could pass with the truck. This would do nothing for traffic coming from the other direction though. “Let‟s get it off the road.” Hooking up the winch with a chain around the trunk, Philippe dragged the Fichus off onto the side. Just as he did several government emergency vehicles pulled up along side them. “El Blanco Hatiano. Coma Es Ta?” Two men jumped out and helped pull the remaining braches to the side. “How does the road look up ahead?” Knowing that they had problem come up from Coxen Hole, Philippe expected it was at least passable for them to be here. “Now? It looks good. Don‟t ask me about two hours ago though?” There was a familiarity in the way they talked and joked that signaled more than a passing acquaintance. “What is the condition of Flower‟s Bay?” If they were going to stop in and check on Christian, Philippe wanted a preview. “Tornado ripped through there pretty badly. Not much left to speak of. Worst damage we have seen so far. Ambulance and fire crews can‟t get even get in there. They may have to send helicopters in.” His cavalier attitude towards the roads and their work changed. A somber mood suggesting something much more serious took over. “Gotta go. I‟ll see you later.” A very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach which had been building for hours was eating away at his insides. “Christian‟s in trouble.” This was the only thing Philippe said when he got back in. Although the road was cleared of trees there were still several large branches remaining. Philippe did not even seem to notice them. Flying up and down the inclines like a race car driver, he nearly flipping them over twice. Just as they came to the top of the hill overlooking Flower‟s Bay he slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt. Both of the people in the truck stared with gaping mouths towards the remnants of what had once been a rather affluent community. “Wha…” If the rest of island looked like a war zone, then this was ground zero. Not a single building was left standing not even one wall. Where once there were palatial mansions there were toothpicks of lumber and crumbled mortar. Flying just less than a hundred feet above the wreckage was one commercial and one military helicopter. They appeared to be searching for a place to land. “Tell me Christian was not staying there.” Covering her mouth as she spoke, Ceilo could not imagine that anyone could have survived in there. Philippe did not answer her. Instead he pulled slowly down the hill and joined several emergency vehicles parked at the entrance to the town. “Three confirmed dead so far, but I would expect a lot more.” The words of the policeman did very little to encourage their growing fears. Watching the search crews covering the lower half of the hill, Philippe had a quick decision to make. “Stay here. I‟ll be right back.” One of the officers tried to stop him from entering. They looked at each and exchanged a couple of words, and then his hand dropped, and he waved him on. Running now on the uneven ground, Philippe expected at any second to recognize the house that he had been to three times before. He did not. Several sparks had started a small fire in the debris to his left, and he was thinking maybe he should turn back. “Anthony‟s Key.” His eyes focused on the door of an upside down pick up truck. “Christian!” The veteran of at least a dozen hurricanes, Philippe was flabbergasted at what he saw around him. Nothing could prepare someone for this kind of devastation. “Christian are you there!” Even with all the noise of the choppers and the rescue crews a hundred yards away, it was quiet enough for his voice to carry. There was a noise coming a hundred or so feet from here. Waving away the commercial chopper, he put his hand up to his ear. “Peter.” Almost like a whisper on the wind. Climbing clumsily over piles of timber, he tried his valiant best to get to the spot. “Gary.” Spinning around he found the source of the noise. Trapped beneath a large supporting beam on the concrete slab of house foundation was a nearly nude Christian. Waving his hands like a crazy man towards the military chopper, Phillipe pointed at the spot where is injured friend lay. “Get up here!” Turning back down the hill, he got some of the rescuers attention. “You‟re going to be all right buddy hang on.” Falling down to his knees he grabbed Christian‟s weak sweaty palm. His normal almost George Hamilton like tan had vanished in sheet of ghost white. All around him was a puddle of blood. Searching the front of him for some sort of injury, Philippe couldn‟t find anything. “GET UP HERE!” Screaming so loudly he even turned Ceilo‟s head a quarter mile away, he was bound and determined to save his friend. “I‟m in bad shape. Can‟t feel my legs mate.” Losing his grip on Philippe‟s hand, he looked ready to pass out at any second. “Hang on buddy. Stay with me.” Several of the workers stumbled over the last pile that he had before and nearly came tumbling down on top of him. “We have to get this beam off him.” Weighing several hundred pounds, if not more, the beam could not be moved by two or three men. “GET UP HERE!” Now the newcomers were yelling the same thing. Luckily three or four of the officers had taken the initiative already from the parking lot on the hill. “We should wait for the paramedics?” They looked from Christian to Philippe not wanting to take any further action. “Tell me how they are going to get in here?” Spinning in circles, Philippe pointed towards the remains of the house. Five of the ten people, joined him on the beam without another word. They all looked to be getting their footing when he spoke. “On Three. Christian this might hurt a bit, but I need you to stay with us.” There was no recognition in the young man‟s fading pupils. “One, two, and three.” As heavy as the beam was they still had little trouble in moving it off of him. After a gasp and whimper, Christian passed out. A third helicopter moved in above them now. This one had a large red cross on the bottom of it. Within seconds they were lowering a basket. Most of the storm was long past, but fifteen knot crosswinds were still making this process quite perilous. “What‟s his name?” Yelling above the rotors a military medic gathered information from Philippe, and they signaled for the back brace. His pulse and blood pressure were nearly non-existent. “I want you to hold his head. You two hold his arms at his side, and you two hold his legs. We are going to roll him over and find out where are all this blood is coming from.” As soon as they had turned him the source of the blood became easily visible. An inch deep gash ran the entire length of his back from shoulder blade to buttocks. With his failing vital signs the amount of bleeding had decreased to almost nothing. “Ok hold him there.” Grabbing several large pads of gauze, he attempted to protect the wound from further bleeding and infection. “Help me pull this around.” Pointing towards another bystander, they grabbed the basket and tried to move it into position. Even with a great deal of the slack the line hopped and bounced all over the place. “Okay on my mark lay him down.” With everyone finally in position and a brief lull in the winds, he yelled. “Mark.” “Is that his blood?” Looking quite faint herself, Ceilo had made her way to the site with the satelitte phone in hand. Thinking they might need to contact someone she braved the conditions to get here. “Stand back miss.” Jumping into the basket, he signaled for the chopper to pull them up. Making a sign of the cross as they disappeared into the air, a very frightened Phillip took a deep breath. “If there is one, there are more. Keep searching!” As though he were in charge of the task force, he pointed at the two miles of rubble, and sat down quietly. “Is he okay? What is going on? What happened to him?” Observing the look on his face, Ceilo would have thought Christian was dead. “Not good. Not good.” When the phone rang, he grabbed it immediately. “Yeah I know we are out here. We just found Christian. No not good. Don‟t know about Peter yet.” A bunch of screams and commotion stopped him. “Give me second.” Running to the source of it, he found two bodies being pulled from under a bathtub. With eyes and mouths agape, it seemed quite apparent that neither was living. One of them he recognized immediately, the second took him a few seconds. Without blinking he walked back to the phone. “Peter and Ronald are dead. I have to go look for Gary. I‟ll call you back.” For the better part of three hours they scurried through the rubble looking for survivors. The sun set the followed was spectacular to see the least. Never could anyone remember such pink and vibrant clouds. “With cataclysmic horror comes extreme beauty.” Not sure where Philippe had heard these words before, he kept them to himself as he marveled a the vibrant display. Even when the night came, they turned on headlights and continued the search. “Eight dead, ten wounded, and fifteen unharmed. That leaves us about fifty short.” Going through a computer census copy they had just been sent, the police were putting together a list. “Sir. Look over there sir.” Every one turned to look at the forest. A completely nude white male staggered towards them. “Jesus Gary!” By the time Philippe got to him, he had fallen to the ground. Shaking uncontrollably his internal body temperature was hovering around ninety. “Get some blankets!” Before he had finished the last word, several people were there with blankets and jackets. “Tornado. Never saw it coming. Woke up on the hill. Never saw it coming. Tornado.” Looking like he had seen a ghost and incoherently babbling away, Gary squeezed Philippe‟s hand tightly. “Never saw it coming. Boarded the windows. We boarded the windows.” Continuing to speak incoherently, emergency personnel began carting Gary away. With enough debris cleared from the site to get ambulances directly on site at the Flowers, the rescue operations were winding down. “I don‟t think you‟re going to be flying home on Sunday.” With Friday all but gone, Philippe could see the end of Ceilo‟s trip in site. “Why is that?” Having really not thought about her pending departure, she was only slowly coming back to reality. “One of the soldiers told me that the Roatan airport is closed until further notice. Which down here means a long long long time. Two of the ferry docks experienced heavy damage. So unless you can swim 30 miles to the mainland by Sunday, I am sorry to say you are stuck here for a few extra days.” Rubbing at his tired eyeballs Philippe began to wish he had never gotten out of bed this morning. “Well I can‟t say a hurricane is the reason why I would want to be stuck here, but I don‟t really mind the stuck part.” Punching at his arm like a kid sister who had been picked on, Ceilo wondered what he meant by his comments. “I think I will wait until tomorrow to check on the house. Up for a cook out at the Montebello estate tonight?” Julito passed on the message to him in between shifts of digging that Maya had been trying to get a hold of him. Apparently she was gathering hundreds of now homeless people and throwing a huge barbeque with her left over festival food. “Are there going be ten thousand people at the dinner table again?” Remembering her last trip to Maya‟s house, she winked and punched him again. “No this should be a much quieter night.” Chapter 23: The Monet Room “Quieter?” Both the American Red Cross and Honduran Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) had set up headquarters at Maya‟s house. Besides the agencies themselves there were hundreds of makeshift tents set up for homeless refugees. The exterior of the estate was barely a shadow of its former self. Nearly all of the landscaping and botanical adornments were either completely destroyed are damaged beyond repair. “I heard about Christian, is there anything I can do?” Hugging Philippe for a prolonged amount of time, Maya whispered in his ear. Even dressed in the equivalent of hospital scrubs, she looked elegant and charming. “Not really. They are trying to stabilize his condition first, and then they will do exploratory surgery to see the extent of the damage to his spinal chord. He‟s incredibly lucky to be alive.” According to his uncle who had friends at the hospital, Christian was at least five pints short of a full tank when he arrived. They claim given another hour out there under that beam he would have died. “That poor boy. A terrible drunk he maybe, but a good soul none the less. Kisses.” Leaning in she kissed Ceilo on both cheeks. “Considering the circumstances you lady you look wonderful. How are you doing on your medicine front? You know with all the damage to the docks and airport you maybe here for a while. If you need refills go to the American Red Cross folks and tell them you know me. Even though you are Italian they will bend the rules.” Another large bus full of refugees pulled up to the gate, and Maya disappeared to greet them. “She‟s not human is she?” Completely amazed at the manner in which Maya could go about her everyday life in the face of utter chaos with a smile on her face, Ceilo looked inept and outdone. “No she‟s not.” Holding up a Silva Vida Philippe toasted returning Emergency personnel with a mock smile. “Truth is I like human beings better though.” Sensing what Ceilo was getting at, he reaffirmed his affinity for her. “How are you doing on your medications? I mean if you are stuck here for a few extra days you should stock up.” The humungous purse she carried with her nearly everywhere dumped out onto the patch of lawn they had taken up as their own. “I brought my whole supply with me, so technically I should be good through the end of the month. Say five more days or so on the everyday ones, and a few weeks on the emergency ones?” Expecting this would lessen her fears, she was surprised he did not look happier with her response. “Let‟s assume you are going to be here a little longer than five days.” Taking her hand he led her down to the American Red Cross tent. Seconds after arriving Maya came up behind them and put her arms around their necks. By the time dinner was served the mobile medication department had stocked her up for a two week supply of her everyday meds. The generosity of everyone around her was so contagious. She wanted to do more to help. When Maya came around looking for volunteers to give our Meals Ready to Eat (MRE‟s) to the masses down of people setting up camp in her backyard, Ceilo jumped at the chance. Watching the faces of those in line to receive supplies was a class in extremes psychology. A grateful smile from those with usual needs was equally contrasted by an ashamed grimace by those not used to handouts. The image of one particular couple stuck with her for the rest of the day. Their designer monogrammed clothing was in stark contrast to the condition of their appearance. Soaked to the bone and stained with grime, they could easily have come from a street corner or a cardboard box. Yet, there was an air in the way they walked and talked that screamed old money. Several times they turned around to those in line with a look on their face which screamed. “Get away from me you dirty peasant or what I am doing here with these people?” As they told their story to the emergency personnel, Ceilo closed her eyes and imagined it in great detail. Sitting quietly in their glorious adorned mansion by the sea sipping café latte they stared out at the rising ocean. Laughing casually as the waters rose higher and higher they considered themselves impervious to nature. It was not until the stilts actually gave way and they plummeted down in the ocean, that either one of them recognized the danger. Clinging desperately to pieces of their castle, they drifted around for hours in the swirling mess whilst cursing God of their infinitesimal woes. Now humbled before the might of mother nature, and stripped of all their worldly possessions they waited in a line for a handout of food. “All of my credits, all of my money, everything I own is gone. It‟s just gone.” Trying her best to hold back her tears, the well to do woman was feeling dreadfully and rightfully sorry for her plight. “You can have my money. It‟s not much but here.” A little girl of no more than five reached around the front of her and handed her a couple of Lempiras. Not worth more than a few pennies it was a pointless gesture. The significance of the sentiment though was priceless. With tears pouring down her face, Ceilo was not sure what to expect. Was the woman going to shoe the child away? Was she going to scream out in her frustration? Gently touching her face with one hand, she wiped the tears away with her other one. “No you keep that. Thank you though young lady. You are an angel.” Her genuine tone, and change in attitude were so visibly notable that several of the onlookers could not help but smile or cry themselves. Philippe had done his share of assisting for the day. Thinking that mentally he was spent, Philippe sat down with one of Maya‟s guitars and PA system to entertain the masses. If nothing else music would ease the trouble mind. “I would like to send a special wish out to a friend of mine today from Flower‟s Bay.” Several moans and gasps told him that they had all heard the nightmarish tales, some had even been there to live through it. “Get well and come back Christian. We‟re all pulling for you.” The sound of clinking glasses and cheers lifted his spirits. Playing several Jimmy Buffett tunes associated with hurricanes and island life, he tried to get everyone involved. Within the hour he had a chorus of Margaritaville larger than the average Parrothead convention starting including the infamous lost verse. No one wanted the music to stop. They all feared that the last song would signal the return to reality. It was not until Philippe‟s fingers literally started to bleed that he finally had to call it a night. “Why don‟t you two crash here? Roads are too dangerous to be traversing without power anyway. Besides where else are you going to go that has power?” Maya‟s propane driven generators had been running full blast since the moment the power went out. Outside large portable ones provided power for the emergency personnel and bathroom facilities donated by the governor. “Thank you.” Feeling a bit awkward about sleeping at his long time lover‟s house with Ceilo, Philippe was not sure how else to respond. “It‟s settled than. I must get back to my duties. Thanks for your help.” Kissing Ceilo squarely on the cheek, she also patted her bum like a football player. “What a day?” Most of the refugees had entered their tents for the evening, and the pressure cooker of a hurricane came crashing to a halt. Only the government offices continued to keep the fires burning bright. “I don‟t know about you, but I need a shower.” Mockingly smelling his under arm, he nearly fell over to ground. “And a whole lot of sleep?” “I agree.” Walking towards the front door, she turned slowly and finished her statement. “You really do need a shower.” Then running away quickly she barely beat him to the house. They chased each other all the way up the stairs. When Philippe got to the guest rooms he came across a trail of clothes. The last of which was a pair of panties just outside the bathroom doors. Not one to shy away from a challenge he shed off his clothes and went in after her. The shower was running already when he got in there. “Would you wash my hair?” Handing him the bottle of shampoo she closed her eyes and turned around. Was she trying to kill him slowly? If so she was doing a really good job. All of this teasing and foreplay was driving him insane. Given the events of the day he was not sure if was appropriate to do more than just wash her hair. “Mmmm. I love that feeling.” As a little girl her mother used to wash her hair once a week. The feel of her fingers through her locks and the smell of the fruity shampoo made her smile and remember a simpler time. Gentling moving his hand towards her belly he caressed her skin slowly. “It feels okay again today. Three days in a row. You‟re good for me.” Seeming to understand that he was trying to rub away her pain, Ceilo chose to acknowledge her good fortune. This was something her mother said she should never do. ”Let‟s make it four days.” Pulling her body back against his, Philippe kissed her on the neck as the warm water poured down over them. Locked in that embrace for several seconds, they did not hear the door open up. “I hope I am not interrupting, but I set up the Monet room for you two.” Even though the glass to the shower was fogged up there was no mistaking the embrace they were sharing. “This shouldn‟t hurt so much.” A silent voice built inside Maya. There was nothing to feel jealous about. Why did it pain her to see him happy with someone else? “Thank you.” Neither of them moved or opened their eyes until she left. Then grabbing the bar of soap Philippe lathered himself. By the time they hit the bed there was a sense of building anticipation. ”The Monet room. I feel special.” Each one of Maya‟s bedrooms had either a reproduction or original painting of a famous artist. This one had a full wall of “Water Lilly‟s” to view from any angle. “You should she would never let me stay here by myself.” They both laughed at the joke and then turned to face each other. Inches apart they appeared ready say something at any second, but nothing came out. She was holding back information from him, and it was hurting her to do so. Finally after several seconds of staring and smiling Ceilo broke down. “Kiss me here. Make me all better.” Pointing to the place on her stomach where he had touched her before, she closed her eyes. “You don‟t know how much I wish I could.” Whispering softly he did as she asked, Philippe had lost the momentum he built up in the shower. They were coming to a grinding halt again. “Now kiss me here.” They were right back at full steam ahead when she pointed to the left side of her chest. “Now here.” The right hand side was next. “Now here.” Barely able to catch her breath now, Ceilo‟s hand pointed somewhere much lower on her anatomy. Never had anyone touched her in this place before. Scared to point of wanting to take back her previous statement, Ceilo had to close her eyes to keep up the nerve. As his lips and then his tongue penetrated her, all other thoughts evaporated from her mind. A feeling built up inside her slowly at first, and growing stronger and stronger. Her fingers dug in deep into his thick brown hair. What was happening? What was he doing to her? Unable to contain the feeling inside her confused body, she exploded in a way that she could never have dreamed possible. Pulling his head up towards hers, she kissed him so deeply he coughed on her tongue. Reaching down between his legs, she pulled him towards her. With nothing to compare it too, she could not imagine a better lover existed anywhere. Tender but passionate, he made love to her for what seemed like a lifetime. For each gentle kiss and every smooth touch he erased another year of pain. Lying still with her head on his chest she asked him a question. “How can you be so confident in everything you do?” Cuddling close, she tried to forget everything else going on the world. “Experience.” A nearly silent whisper left his lips and almost immediately he wished her could take it back. “Thanks. I‟m sleeping with a tramp.” Her words were neither loud nor angry, but she felt instantly cheated. “With life. I mean with life.” Laughing loudly enough for her to know what he meant, Philippe stroked her hair and then whispered in her ear. “Have faith in yourself that what you are doing is right. Believe in your heart that no matter what you say or what you look like you can do anything. It‟s far easier than you think to do.” Taking a deep breath, he let the events of the day filter back into his reasoning. Tomorrow he would have to pick up the pieces of his and many other broken homes and put them back together. It was a daunting task to rebuild and replace possessions, but even more so to restore lives. “You‟re strong and healthy it makes it easier to be confident.” As a teenager with cancer she lived a very hard five years. Although most people were kind and supportive in her immediate family, others of her age group treated her either overly attentively or with horrid reproach as though she were contagious. “Confidence is mental not physical. Tell yourself you can do anything and most the time you can.” Even the three months he spent in and out of hospitals after the shark attack had not begun to dim his assertive powers. Standing tall through adversity had served him well all the years of his life. “Can you stop death?” Not wanting to say these words, she held back her tongue. “I‟ll tell you a little tale about confidence in the morning.” Containing a yawn, Philippe squeezed her into his chest. When the morning light came he felt a finger tickling at his side. Trying to startle Ceilo by jumping, he barely opened his eyes to look down at her. She was gently and slowly tracing her finger nails over his scar. “You‟re awake.” Ceilo could tell from the change in his breathing that he was not sleeping anymore. “I am. But the more important question is; why are you?” The clock on the bedside table screamed seven o‟ five. “The folks from HEMA are arranging for me to take a helicopter over to Tegucigalpa tomorrow afternoon. They didn‟t tell me such but I think they are worried I am going to die in their country so they want to get me out.” Feeling guilty that she had not told him this night before, Ceilo could not sleep. “From the first moment I saw you I knew it would be you. Somewhere deep inside, I just knew it.” Struggling to turn her face away, Ceilo was ready to cry. There was an understanding in his eyes that said he knew already, though Philippe did not outwardly say it. She wondered if someone had told him directly, or like most things on this island it had just filtered down to him through the coconut telegraph. “I don‟t want you to go home Ceilo. I don‟t want you to leave. Is this what you want to hear from me?” Being angry with himself for caring was a constant struggle for Philippe. Caring too much had brought him nothing but trouble. However, until now at least, he had never allowed himself to care for a lover. “In a week you have changed something in me that I promised myself would never change.” Sex was easy for Philippe, intimacy was hard to nearly impossible. Hurt by fate, he had built walls of stone around himself with no way for others to get in. “I can‟t imagine my life anymore without you. Do you know how crazy that sounds?” Breaking her silence and wiping away her tears, Ceilo faced him. A feeling of dizziness started somewhere in the back of her head, and fuzzy lines invaded her vision. It was starting again. “But what can we do? Where can we go to hide from death?” Several pains shot from her belly up through her arms and chest. “Damn it.” Closing her eyes tightly and biting at her lip, she wondered if this latest batch of pain was coming from her head. Philippe did not seem to recognize the physical aspect of her pain, thinking instead she was yelling at fate. “Ouch.” Her answer was almost immediate. Curling up into a fetal position she tried valiantly to fight off anguish. “What can I do?” The second he realized what was happening Philippe was on his feet. Grabbing her bag of pills, he began dumping them on the bed side table. Running quickly to the switch on the wall, he flooded the whole room with light. “L, V, and P. Those are the ones right.” Remembering her letter system, Philippe pulled them and brought it to her side. “It hurts so much. No one can possibly understand how much it hurts.” Normally not a verbal person when it came to her pains, Ceilo screamed out. Like most people with a disease or ailment she could not imagine that anyone had ever felt this excruciating anguish before. “Come on take your pills.” With a glass of water in hand from the bathroom, Philippe did not want to talk about how much it hurt. He could see it in her face. “Why? Why do I take them at all? Go away. Just leave me here.” Biting on the pillow now, another wave shot through her this one more intense then the first. “Never. I‟m never going away from you! Now take the pills. If not for you then do it for me!” Shoving the glass in her face, he could not stand to watch this anymore. It even hurt for her to swallow. After handing back the glass she squeezed his hand. Pulling it into her belly in a grand gesture of trust and hope, Ceilo wanted him to take all the pain away. “OUCH! OH GOD STOP IT! Tell me you love me. Lie to me if need be just tell you love me.” The tears pouring down her face now were from a different place. They flowed salty down onto the pillow leaving stains behind. “More than anything.” Holding his breath each time she convulsed, Philippe was turning blue in the face. The convulsions of her stomach muscles on his hand were overwhelming now. “There‟s a needle in the bag. Get it.” In the five years it had never been this bad before, Ceilo could no longer take it. “What now?” Just holding it in his hands Philippe thought he might pass out. “One shot middle of my left cheek. Empty the whole vial. OH GOD!!!! TAKE IT AWAY!” Banging her head on the mattress she could not stand this much longer. Everything was going black but she could not pass out. Without taking the time to ask her if she was sure, or thinking about what he should do, Philippe pushed the needle into her left buttocks and compressed the plunger. Ceilo did not even feel the needle. Instead she felt the warmth start moving over her. From her cheek to her back and then mercifully to her belly, and slowly to her head. Pulling back the needle he read the writing on the side of the vial. “Morphine.” Her body began to relax from its fetal position to lying down, and then further to lying on her back. “Thank you.” They were the last words Ceilo spoke before her eyes went shut. This was too much for him to handle on his own. Grabbing her in his arms he ran her down to the first aid tent. “She had an attack. This is what I gave her.” In his pocket Philippe had all of the medicines available for the doctor. “She needs to be in a hospital.” Looking him up and down, the doctor did not what else to do. “What can they do for her?” “Keep her comfortable. Stop her pain.” Having discussed Ceilo‟s ailment with her the night before, Dr. Peterson was quite aware of the prognosis. Not being an oncologist himself, he made several inquires into the best course of action. His only response was. “Treat the pain. There‟s nothing more you can do.” “Tell me something doctor. If you were dying and no one could do anything for you, would you want to be in hospital?” Picking her back up off the gurney Philippe walked her out through the gates of the estate to the truck. “You‟re making a mistake Philippe.” Walking beside him were both the doctor and Maya, who sensed all the commotion and ran down to see what was going on. “Listen to him you can‟t help her.” Trying to hold him back she was not surprised that he shrugged her off and kept walking. “I‟m the only one that can help her Maya. I‟m the only one.” Never turning back he laid her in the passenger seat and got in. What made him drive to his old house, he would never know? The more logical location would have been the governor‟s estate or just about anywhere other than the beach. Only he was not thinking logically. He was not thinking at all. The mile long stretch from Villa Del Sol was blocked in with trees. No vehicle could have ever made it through. Philippe walked it with her in his arms climbing over branches and pushing boards out of the way as he went. What he found when he got there could be considered little less than a miracle. His house was still standing and virtually in one piece. Only the whole thing had been moved back some fifty yards from the water and turned sideways resting up against a tree. Not taking the time to assess the situation, he threw open the front door and walking her into the darkened bedroom, and laid her down on the now sand floor. There they sat. Hour after hour passed with no change in her condition. Her head resting on his lap, he had nothing to do but wait. “It‟s time you and I made our peace.” Speaking in Creole he turned his head skyward. “I can‟t do this again. You have to help me out this time. My mom, my dad, my sister, I think this was enough already. Yes I have neglected you in the past. Yes I have defied nearly every rule set forth in the good book. But overall I am a pretty good person. This? This just isn‟t right anymore.” Normally not one to pray aloud, Philippe was calling on another miracle. There was no reaction from above or from in his lap. “Tell me what to do? Help me out here a bit even just a hint.” A small glimmer of the rising sun slid through a hole in the roof bathing Ceilo‟s face in warm light. As quickly as it arrived it disappeared. Within seconds several other cracks and broken windows were illuminated. Several rays slid around both of them and the damaged room giving one the feeling of being under the canopy of a forest. “Am I dead?” Blinking her eyes several times at the rays of sunshine, Ceilo thought for sure this must be the end. “Not unless I joined you.” Rocking back and forth with her in his arms, Philippe nodded his head and smiled. Unlike previous attacks when she had bounced back to almost normal consciousness, Ceilo had trouble recovering from this one. The simplest motions of sitting up or even keeping her eyes open for more than a second or two were impossible. A commotion was building outside, but she could not determine the direction or who was causing it. Several voices were closing in the dilapidated shack from all directions. “Philippe are you in there?” It was Julito. “Come on buddy we‟re here to see you.” It was Julio. “Hey give us a sign that you hear us.” It was the governor. “Come out for a second and talk.” It was the police chief. “What‟s going on?” Looking up at Philippe she was surprised that he was not saying anything. Biting his lip and struggling to concentrate, he was formulating a plan. “They‟re here to take you away. They want to put you in a hospital then from there more than likely they are going to send you back to Italy. I need to know what you want me to do?” Prepared to fight the world if he needed to, Philippe was not sure what she wanted. In the long run that was all the permission he needed. “Let me go.” Holding his hand close to her face, she kissed it softly. “It‟s time to just let me go.” Chapter 24: A Dangerous Man Walking out the door with her in his arms, Philippe was met by more than a dozen people. Every one of them was completely unsure of what to expect from the highly volatile highly dangerous young man. An island legend had been passed around from local to local describing one of this early run ins with the law. The only three people who could directly deny or verify the truth were long gone. As the tale goes three United States Marines just out of basic training were on the island for some R & R. They happened upon the Twisted Toucan quite late on a Friday night. Already three sheets to the wind, they were itching for some action. Whether it be women or fighting something was bound to happen that night. In the corner of the bar two of the waitresses were counting out their tips for the evening. They approached the young ladies and rudely attempted to make their acquaintance. Unable to accept no for an answer, the largest of the three made the mistake of grabbing Matilda Gonzales‟s arm. Most of the patrons in the bar agree that this is how the entire incident started. From here the story grows more and more unclear. “I would suggest you let her go.” Stepping from out of the shadows a much younger brazen Philippe approached the men. With a nod and smile he pointed the two young ladies to behind the bar, and he approached the Marines. “Check out the Frenchy, he thinks he‟s some kind of tough guy. The dumb frog obviously doesn‟t know who we are.” All of them laughed and closed in around Philippe. “Haitian.” Slowly putting out his cigarette, and preparing for conflict, Philippe whispered. “I‟m Haitian not French. What an idiot?” They patted each other on the back and laughed some more. “As this is a place of business, I would ask that we discuss these matters elsewhere.” Cracking his neck and stretching like he was about to exercise, Philippe walked out the back of the restaurant. Still laughing and jabbering incoherently they followed. “This is going to be fun baby!” What happened next no one really knows for certain? There were several loud noises and the shattering of glass and wood then silence. After a minute or so, Philippe walked casually back into the bar paid his tab grabbed his cigarettes and left. Kevin ran around back to find the three men beaten and battered. One of them had a pool cue sticking out the back of his pants. They were so embarrassed by the fact that one man had whipped them so badly, they never even filed a report with the police. Pride destroyed, they limped off to their hotels and were never heard from again. Some people say that Philippe had friends of his waiting out back when the men arrived. While still others, say he simply beat the three very inebriated men to the punch so to speak. One severely drunken night three years afterwards Paul got him to comment on what happened. They were the only words he ever uttered about the whole incident. “I was angry and foolish. No more needs to be said.” Still since that day everyone on the island gave him a slightly wider berth than before. When an angry word or argument ever arose with him, they were very careful not to take it to the next level. Standing before him now, even his brothers looked concerned about his state of mind. All four of the officers stood back a good three feet further than they would have with someone else they were attempting to question. “She says that you should take her home.” Lying her down on the sand, Philippe simply walked back to his house and began cleaning up. “Well is that all you are going to do?” One of the immigration officers and department of foreign affairs officials was looking to have the young man arrested. “That is all I am going to do. If you want to do something more I suggest you go knock on his door.” Leaning down to the pick up the girl, the chief of police was not going to arrest the young man. Having heard the stories about he and Ceilo, the chief was not even sure about coming out here today. “If you do though Raul. I would suggest you knock softly.” The governor walked over to the now sleeping Ceilo and held her head up as they walked back the truck. When Raul realized that no one was going to help him apprehend Philippe, he reluctantly followed behind them. After all he was a bureaucrat and therefore not a man of action. Waking up in a hospital room Ceilo blew out a long desperate sigh. This was the last place she wanted to be. When she looked around her and saw that Philippe was not there, her heart went hollow. “Ceilo. Oh baby you had us so scared.” Rushing through her door, was her mother and father. After a full day of testing they had suggested that she was not safe to move. Given her condition, the governor had flown them in from Italy at his own expense so that they could spend time with their daughter. “I got to live my dream papa. You told me I could and I did.” Holding his gray bearded face close she kissed him several times. “That‟s great baby. That is the most wonderful news I can think of.” His daughter‟s condition had taken a severe turn for the worse. According to the oncologist the cancer was now choking out almost half of her white cells. It was just a matter of time before her body could no longer fight off the inevitable. “When am I going home?” When her father turned away from her, she knew there was something they were not telling her. “They don‟t think it is safe to fly you home yet baby.” Lying to your child is what every parent dreads doing. It was even more difficult with someone like Ceilo. Not only was she wise beyond her twenty-one years, she was also had a sixth sense about impending pronouncements of doom. “I‟m not leaving Honduras am I?” Even before she finished her statement her parents took deep breaths and started crying. “Then why did they bring me here mama. Why didn‟t they leave me with him?” The governor had filled them in on the “relationship” between her daughter and Mr. Lacroix very professionally and tastefully. They had not heard about it from her though. To hear it now shocked and surprised them. Ceilo had never been one to fall for a boy. She was far too strong and opinionated for the young men of her own town. “If I can‟t go home again I want to see him. Please mama I love him.” Putting her hands to her face, her mother looked ready to collapse. “Love?” Wanting to tell her a week was not long enough to fall in love, she remembered her own courtship of a month. Wanting to tell her that she was too young to know what love really was, she remembered that she was a year younger when she met her husband. “You really love this boy?” Surprising everyone in the room, her mother took her face and kissed it. Ceilo had always expected that her mother and father would want to kill the first boy she fell for, she was flabbergasted at her reaction. “Now young lady, you have lived my dream too. I only wished you had more time.” Crying hysterically again, she held her only daughter close to her. It had been years since they had embraced like this. “Knock knock we hope we are not intruding.” Standing in doorway was the entire Alvarez family and Maya Montebello. “What are all of you doing here?” Brightening up and wiping at her glassy eyes, she waved them in. All of them one by one came up and kissed her in the bed. “Government business mostly. Plus we just stopped over to see you and Christian.” Holding her for an extra second or two, Juan remembered the look on her cold white face two days before. “With everything I nearly forgot.” Signing the cross, Ceilo shook her head. “Amazing they think he is going to be okay. The spinal chord wasn‟t severed. Three of his vertebrae were cracked and it was swelling in chord that caused the temporary paralysis. He is a very lucky young man.” Most of the doctors who spoke to them were in complete shock that there was no further damage. Christian‟s mother had flown in yesterday and had been at his bedside ever since. “And Philippe?” No one wanted to approach this question. They all turned away not sure at all what they should say. Only Maya seemed to have the guts to discuss it. “He hasn‟t left his house since they came to get you.” When several of his friends showed up they found him pulling the remnants of his broken home down piece by piece. Then placing them back on the original foundation, on top of newly installed stilts, he reconstructed his villa by the sea. It was really by the sea now with the thirty or so yards of beachfront completely wiped out the ocean poured underneath his home. Reconnecting his plumbing and electricity via conduit he was only waiting on the power to be turned back on. “I want to see him.” Pulling herself up in bed, Ceilo was determined that she would not die here in this hospital. Speaking in Italian now, she addressed her confused mother and father as one. “The doctor doesn‟t think it safe for you to…” They never finished speaking. The look in their daughter‟s eyes said it all. “I want to see him.” Speaking English again she addressed the rest of the people in the room. Maya nodded her head. “Then Mr. Governor, we will have to make it happen.” Being the governor of Roatan had it‟s privileges when it came to the Honduran INS. However, it did not make him Lord of all those around him. The Honduran State department wanted to send Miss Bella home on the very first plane. It was only a direct certified letter from the director of the hospital in Tegucigalpa that had kept this from happening. Now to suggest either sending her back to Roatan on a helicopter or a ferry seemed to go against everything they had decided upon. “The girl is dying sir. If her wish is to do so in Roatan and if her parents agree to it, why wouldn‟t we grant that wish? We can document the whole story if you like. What a testament to our great land that a young lady from a foreign country would want to spend her final hours here.” Even as the words flowed from his mouth, Juan had to fight back to urge to roll his own eyes at the obvious bull crap that was flowing out. “Would she agree to that?” Excited by any attempt at good publicity the director of foreign affairs was drooling at the thought of documentary. “I‟m sure she would consider it.” Turning to his wife he looked ready to scream, he held his hand up in the air. “In that case I agree. I will make the calls.” Four hours and several fuming doctors later Ceilo landing back on the Tan right back where she started two days before. “Thank you.” Hugging Maya tightly she stared up the now cleared back road towards Philippe‟s house. Not sure at all what to expect, she could barely contain her excitement. Still with only about eighty percent of her strength returned, Ceilo took her time walking towards the beach. The day was Thursday and it was a little after two in the afternoon as she strolled passed the remaining canopy of Boa bob and Black Olives that had covered over this path like an archway. It had only been ten days since she first stepped off that jet. It had only been eleven since the first time she met Philippe Lacroix and yet so much had changed. Sounds of hammering and random curse words greeted her as she made it up the last of the driveway. Stopping short she marveled at the stilt house up above the receding tidal waters. Hanging off the roof, Philippe was trying to replace the two large bay doors with an ocean facing window. “Do you need a hand?” Her voice carried on the midday wind and nearly caused a surprised Philippe to fall off. Gasping she ran, up towards him but he had already recovered his balance. “Yes I sure as hell do!” Even without seeing her, Philippe knew exactly whose voice it was that was approaching him. “This freaking window is really heavy.” Before he knew it she was inside, holding the window in place so he could hammer in the wooden stints around the outside. Without saying a word, he came down off the roof, and back inside. “About bloody time you got your ass back here.” Grabbing her without any warning whatsoever, Philippe lifted her up and kissed her passionately “I love you so much. I‟m so sorry.” Kissing him over and over again Ceilo, could not imagine what effect seeing her almost die on him had. It must be the most frustrating feeling on earth to watch something like that. “Just kiss me.” Holding a single finger to her lips, he pulled her in tight. Within minutes they were back to the way they had been before. There were no more talk about her attacks or her saying that she should leave. Philippe didn‟t ask any of the million annoying questions that any other man would ask. He just went about life as though nothing had happened. “It‟s only fair that I tell you I don‟t have much time left.” Taking a deep breath late in the day, Ceilo could feel her strength slipping with the hours. It was if this day‟s sunset was signaling her own. “Then we have to live for every hour.” Taking her hand in his, Philippe smiled and then pressed the electronic start button on his new generator. There was a brief moment when he was not sure the engine would turn over, but as it finally did his power came back on. “YEAH!” Normally not a glutton for necessities Ceilo could admit that being without air conditioning or at least fans in Caribbean was not comfortable. “Let‟s hope it doesn‟t burn down the house now?” There was at least another two weeks of work within the house. Most of it would be spent replacing all of the rotted out and moldy dry wall. Structurally though, his little villa had survived a severe licking and kept right on ticking. As the two window air conditioning units finally began to cool down the interior of his home, Philippe drew a very deep breath. “Time to save the rest of the world now.” Even though no one had come to him requesting his assistance in their rebuilding process, he was quite aware that they were lining up. Rumor had it that the north and east sides of the island were in total disarray. Packing up everything he would need for this new task, Philippe took Ceilo by the small of the back and carried her up his new front staircase to his bedroom. Chuckling all the way, she finally spoke when he kicked open the door. “What do you think your doing young man?” Quite aware of what she had in mind, she was just playing along. “Taking you to the shower. You need one.” Clothes and all he pulled her into the bathroom. Tired or not she was not going to delay her twenty one years of delayed inexperience any longer. Several minutes of frantic petting and a good solid hour of experience followed their shower. “My parents are here.” Kissing his back and shoulders she mentioned these words. “Hopefully not here in the bedroom or I am going to feel really awkward.” A loud smack landed on the small of his back. “In Roatan silly boy. They flew over here to see me.” Kissing the same place she had just smacked him, Ceilo giggled at the handprint. “How long are they here for?” Not quite awake enough for a serious conversation, Philippe regretting asking as soon as he did. “For as long as I am I guess.” Another in a line of many awkward silences began. “Well then you should take them around the island. Show them the sites.” Pushing himself up off the bed Philippe remembered that the rest of the Tan was waiting. “If you need a car, I am sure Julito can loan you one from the resort. It‟s not like they have any guests over there right now.” Picking her up quite casually he set her down on his lap. They looked in each other‟s eyes and smiled. “I am going to ask you something but first I want you to understand that there is no pressure for an answer either way.” Knowing that Philippe was not a creature of intimacy she was worried that what she was going to ask would scare him away. “Now that I am finished working here today we can all go out to dinner. Would that be okay with you?” Anticipating her question, Philippe cut her off at the pass. “That would be marvelous!” Squeezing him so tightly she nearly cracked his ribs, a naked Ceilo jumped up and bounced across the room. “I have got to be mad as a hatter?” Not nearly as driven and perky as her, Philippe struggled in his nicest dress clothes and stumbled down the stairs towards the truck. Both he Ceilo stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Waiting with his chin in the air, and looking famished was Jean Marc, and two of the lesser known cousins. “You hardy son of a …” Running back inside, he pulled a container of overly ripe cherry tomatoes out, and returned to the stoop. “This will just take a second.” The three iguanas gobbled up every morsel that fell near them. Displaced from their normal feeding patterns by the hurricane and lack of native vegetation, they were in desperate need of human assistance. “Recovery is the hardest part. We‟re getting there though. We‟re getting there.” None the worse for wear except for a broken toe nail, and a cut on his tail, Jean Marc closed his eyes as Philippe stroked under his chin. It was nice to have everything getting back to normal again. Chapter 25: Portensio Most Italian woman do not age gracefully. A broad generalization perhaps, but it was something Philippe had noticed during his nearly thirty years. They start growing hair in places they never had it before, put on lots of weight, and wrinkle quite quickly. There are the rare exceptions, Monica Belucci et al, but in general he had found this to be true. Francesca Bella reminded him of the woman on the front of the old Prego bottles. This was the Italian mom Webster dictionary photo included. Her eyes burned a hole straight through him the moment he walked in the door. Gianni Bella was completely the opposite of what he expected. Dark eyes and skin color with the disposition of a lamb. He literally opened his arms and took Philippe in like his own child the second he met him. Finding a place with power, that was serving food, that could also be trusted was difficult enough in Honduras. Finding it during the aftermath of category three hurricane was more than just touch and go. Luckily Philippe knew the ropes. He knew the phone calls to make, the questions to ask. Plus he put up the hurricane shutters on nearly half of them. Therefore he could count on his fingers the buildings he expected to survive. “Welcome to Pure Vida my name is Portensio how can I help you?” Trying his best to be professional around Ceilo‟s parents, Portensio winked behind their backs. He and Philippe went way back to the early days of this hotel/restaurant/dive shop. “I would like to introduce to Miss Ceilo Bella, and her parents. Francesca and Gianni Bella.” His formality in everything he did would not go unnoticed. When he held open the car door and the door into the restaurant her mother secretly smiled. “Buonsera. E‟un picere incontarti. (Good Evening it is a pleasure to meet you.)” With the ice permanently broken by his perfect northern Italian introduction, the meal went splendidly. Italian, Spanish, and English mixed fluidly together with a couple of bottles of red wine. Strangely Philippe refused all attempts to get him to have some. Neither Portensio nor Giani had a problem taking up his share. “Tutto Apposto.” Pointing towards his plate and his glass at the same time, Gianni was full of both The longer the night went the more Philippe became aware that Ceilo‟s father actually spoke English quite well. It was not until Portensio went back to his customers though, that Gianni actually spoke it. “You are the scuba instructor no?” Undoing one loop on his belt he sat back and picked at his gray beard incessantly like a grooming feline. “That I am.” Two glasses of wine had reduced her mother to a smiling non-entity. While several glasses had turned her father into a chatty boy of twenty/ “Is that what you want to do for the rest of your life?” Normally a question like this from a young lady‟s father could be construed in many ways. Given the situation though, Philippe just took it for what it was a question of curiosity. “Yes I plan on doing it for the rest of my life. I also plan on being a carpenter for the rest of my life, an entertainer, an electrician, and so on and so forth.” The list of things Philippe could and had done for a living was too extensive to go on. “A jack of all trades no?” Remembering the expression from one of the dozens of English language books of Ceilo‟s that he had read in the past. “Bravo papa.” Impressed that he had remembered it Ceilo patted her father on the back. “I love to create. Almost everything about creation fascinates me. Therefore I try to be proficient at as many things as possible. From painting to plumbing I want to do it all, and I want to do it well.” Even as Ceilo translated her mother peaked her interest and leaned forward. “Sounds like you are not ready to settle down and get married to me.” In Italian she spoke these words thinking they might go over his head. “Yes you are correct I am not ready for marriage.” Quite honestly he turned to Ceilo to let her know to translate. It seemed unnecessary to explain to her that the current situation did not lend itself to a marriage anyway. “That‟s a pity, I wanted me daughter to marry a good man, and you seemed like a good man.” Figuring that he understood nearly everything she was saying, Francesca did not wait for outgoing translation anymore. “Most of life is pity Mrs. Bella. I try not to lose sleep on the things I can not change.” For the first time since he had been in their company, Philippe took their daughter‟s hand in his, and kissed the top of her knuckles. Both parents stared at him as though he had committed some mortal sin. “I am twenty one years old?” Much like an American teenager, she chastised her parents. They quickly closed their eyes to a human width and went back to drinking their wine. The truth be told they had never seen their daughter kiss a man or vice versa anywhere but on the cheek in friendship. Neither of them was ready to accept that their baby was no longer a baby. This slick island boy was trying to bed their innocent child. Only she wasn‟t a child anymore. Recent years of battling cancer had done nothing to dispel this delusion. With her counting on them constantly from everything from feeding to changing her drawers, they had actually regressed as what they saw as her mental age. “Ceilo is a beautiful woman and a precious girl all in the same skin.” Pouring the last of the wine into Gianni‟s glass, Philippe took the heat for the conversation. He drew all eyes to him. “A caterpillar that never becomes a butterfly must feel itself cheated don‟t you think?” Standing up, Philippe excused himself to the restroom. “Intelligent young man. He would not have been my choice for you though.” Having grown up in a rural town, his parents nearly fixed him up with a second cousin in Naples. If not for his threat to go to America he never would have met Francesca. “He‟s a salesman. Obviously he sold you.” Typically distrustful of everything and everyone around her daughter, Francesca lifted her glass. “To never being cheated.” Ceilo held up her wine glass filled with club soda, and mockingly toasted her parents. “What did you expect our blessing? Well you won‟t get it.” Turning her head away, and trying her best to look hurt or offended, the guilt trip went unnoticed. “I did not expect anything. I merely thought you might want to meet him.” Too old to play these games anymore, Ceilo did not bite on the bait. “Why he is not going to put a ring on your finger and make you an honest woman. Then why should we want to meet him?” Burying he face in his hands, Gianni should his arm fiercely at his wife while she talked. “Mama. How many times does everyone have to tell you this? No one will ever put a ring on my finger. I‟m dying remember.” No stranger to Italian guilt, Ceilo could lay in on only when she had to. “Bite your tongue. God will provide. You must believe.” Gripping his wife‟s hand forcefully, Gianni shook his head. “Our host is returning. Let us not be rude.” Squeezing harder than before, he let her know that he would not be offended in public. As much as his wife could throw up a fuss, she knew better than to do this. There would be silence for weeks on end if she did. This more than anything else was how Gianni had even the slightest bit of control in a marriage to a Umbrian woman. “Perhaps we should call it an evening.” Leading them to the door, he waved at Portensio and went on his way. There was no bill to pay. There was never a bill to pay. For everything he had done for his friend, Philippe sort of expected this special treatment. “Well it has been a wonderful evening. It was a great pleasure meeting the two of you.” Sitting them down in the taxi, Philippe winked at Ceilo out of the corner of his eye. “Good night dear I will see you tomorrow.” Kissing her cheek, he wished Ceilo was coming back to his house instead of to Maya‟s. She had graciously accepted them all in to stay there. “Thank you for the beautiful meal, and excellent company.” Slowly and carefully her drunk father spoke in English. Her mother merely nodded and faked a smile. “I don‟t like him.” Yawning and turning her head out the window her mother started the second the car pulled away from the curb. “There‟s a surprise.” Whispering under her breath just loudly enough to be heard, Ceilo turned her head out the opposite window leaving her father in the middle. “Well I like him. He‟s a genuinely honest young man. There are so very few of them left in this world.” Fairly tipsy but still fully in touch with his faculties her father patted her gently on the leg. “Of course you would. You are a wanna be slut, so of course you would like him.” Tired of being ganged up on by the two of them, Francesca fired back. “Mama I‟m not going to get married. I am not going to have children. The chances are growing more and more remote that I will not even make my twenty second birthday.” Secretly grabbing her father‟s hand, Ceilo was happy that he was on her side. “Why do you have to keep saying that?” Looking hurt and frustrated her mother smacked her hands down on the seat. “Would Philippe be the ideal husband or father? No probably not. Does he love me and treat me well? Yes I really think he does. For the first time in my life I‟m happy. I mean really truly genuinely happy. Why can‟t you see that as a good thing?” Leaning over Gianni now, she tried to get her mom to pay attention to what she was saying. “Happiness without security is foolish. That boy does not the first thing about being anything but a boy. What experience does he have with being a man?” Staring her daughter straight in the eyes she grew louder. “Okay now this is not a fight you two.” Pushing them both back into their corners he father wanted this to end without nasty words. “His mother, father, and sister were killed before he was eleven years old. Since then he has practically raised himself mama. Quite frankly I think he knows more about being a man than practically anyone I have ever known. Except maybe you papa.” Her venomous tone subsided as she kissed her father‟s beard. “Murdered by these horrible Indians I would guess?” This last statement turned both of them on her. Neither said a word they just burned holes through her with their eyes. Looking towards the limo driver they only hoped he did nor understand what she had said. “No mame killed by sharks.” Their answer came when the driver responded to her question in English. Never looking in the mirror, he tried to bite his tongue but was unable to do so. “Forgive my mother, sometimes she has very little class.” Turning to look at her Ceilo only wished she had the nerve to say this in Italian. “Tell me again why we are staying with this woman again.” Quiet until they got to the gates of the estate, Francesca was not done being difficult yet. “Because she was gracious enough to take us in mother.” Not wanting to offend her father by saying “beggars can‟t be choosers” she tried a nice approach. “Along with every other hooligan and vagrant on this rat trap it appears.” Staring out towards the gathering in the yard, she continued to ungratefully and spitefully rattle off nonsense. “All right dear. That will be just about enough of that. You are embarrassing yourself with your ignorance, and now worse than that you have embarrassed me!” Everyone in the car went silent, and then Francesca did something that Ceilo had never seen in all of her years. “You‟re right. I apologize. I am worried about our only daughter Gianni, and I took it out on others. Forgive me.” Burying her face in her hands, she began to cry. Ceilo climbed across her father and began hugging her mother. “We love you mama.” Holding her close, she swayed her back and forth. Both the driver and Gianni stepped from the vehicle to let them have their moment. “Buonsera, I am Maya Montebello. Welcome to my home.” For the rest of the evening Francesca tried her best to be gracious and appreciate everything to was given to her. Even going so far as to compliment Maya on her home, and her decision to help the people of her island. It was a unique experience. By the time they should have been going to bed, her mother had joined Ceilo out at one of the tents and was helping prepare food distribution for the next morning. Across town Philippe had settled in at the Alvarez household and was being grilled on his intentions with the young miss Bella. “They don‟t think she will live for another month honey. Do you think this a such good idea?” Carolina had been the first person to actually discuss the reality of death with him. “Why does my love life seem like the topic of conversation lately?” Pulling in a drag on his cigarette, Philippe turned to the gathering wolves. “Perhaps because until now at best it could be called a sex life?” Always the astute one, Juan pulled one of the cigarettes from his pack and joined in to the dismay of his wife. “Hurricane stress dear.” To this end she took one from the pack as well and lit up. “Well the only one I‟m hurting is myself so I think we can leave it alone now.” Trying his best to be forceful without being rude, Philippe turned to his surrogate brothers for some reassurance but got none. “I beg to differ little brother, Miss Bella stands to get hurt pretty badly here.” Julio picked a smoke from his pack as well. “He‟s right the only thing more painful than dying is hurting those around you with your death.” Julito continued with his iced tea and frowned at the cloud of smoke gathering around his head. “I don‟t get it.” Normally quite bright Philippe was missing something simple here. “My guess is that Ceilo is more worried about how those who love her are going to handle her demise than the actual death itself.” They all turned to Julio and nodded their agreement at what he had to say. “So what you are saying is that I am just another person to feel sorry for?” This fact had never really occurred to him until now. “I don‟t really buy that folks. Truth be told I may be the only one who can save her.” Meaning more mentally the physically, Philippe was quite aware how arrogant his statement sounded, and did not seem to care. “How‟s that?” Waving her hand in front of her face, Carolina poured more lemonade into his glass. “You have to live before you can die. Ceilo had never truly lived until now. Part of that credit must go to me.” Going from person to person in the group, Philippe made eye contact with every last one of them. “You must think you are really good in bed there little brother. You have not lived until you have slept with me!” Kidding around Julio was surprised when his father smacked the back of his head. “We‟ll have no talk like that in my household.” Quite stern now, Juan appeared ready to send his youngest son to his room. “What is everyone‟s preoccupation with sex around here? I‟m talking about something more significant than just sex.” Lighting his third cigarette in less than five minutes Philippe was growing impatient with the conversation. “What do you feel you are giving to Ceilo that is so significant?” Constantly amazed at how confident his “brother” was in everything he did, Julito admired and hated him at the very same time. “Why don‟t you ask her that question?” Stamping out the half smoked butt, Philippe got to his feet. “Forgive me but I am going to retired upstairs.” Kissing Carolina on the cheek and nodding to his father he disappeared quickly. “What is it with you four?” Slamming down his drink, the governor followed after Philippe. “Hold up a second.” Catching him at the bottom of the stairwell, Juan put his hand on the young man‟s shoulder. “Why her?” A second hand landed on the other shoulder. “Don‟t ask me that question. Ask him?” Pointing towards the sky, Philippe tried to move forward but was still held back. “You‟re going to get hurt again.” His voice cracking a bit, Juan could not hold in his feelings about this subject anymore than the rest of his family could. “If that seems to be my lot in life. So be it.” This time he was able to pull away and took the stairs two and three at a time. “Encourage him as a person even if you do not agree with his decisions! How many times have I asked everyone in this family to do that? He has been through enough already!” All of the family members ducked their heads towards the ground when Juan returned to the table. “Do you think he is right?” Whispering just barely enough to be heard, Carolina was the only one who could stand up to him. It was one of the perks of being his wife. No matter the machismo of the land they lived in, the woman still controlled the house. “No I think he is making a mistake, and I have told him that. I think you made a mistake when you got engaged to Brittany. I think you made a mistake when you stopped playing football. I think you made a mistake when you redecorated the living room. I gave you my opinion when you asked for it; then I left it alone. Do the same for him!” Practically screaming he addressed each person individually. “With all due respect father none of those situations were a matter of life and death?” Taking all the courage he had to muster Julito spoke up again. “I waste my breath!” Now he was the one going up the stairs, only slightly slower than Philippe had. Chapter 26: Beached Dolphins Her dream had taken on a whole new context one Ceilo could not have grasped merely a week ago. Instead of a swimming girl coming to meet the dolphin, now she was a bloated body gently sinking towards the bottom of the ocean. Just as she seemed ready to disappear into oblivion, a pod of dolphins came to her rescue. One by one taking turns as if passing a volleyball back and forth they move her lifeless body towards the surface Only as her face broke through she was alive once more. Spurting liquid and gasping for breath, she was concerned to see herself now in the middle of the open ocean. Swimming and swimming for what seemed like hours, Ceilo was getting nowhere. Her companion dolphins were nowhere in site. Instead she was surrounded by growing numbers of sharks. All shapes and sizes the various creatures encircled her. Tighter and tighter their range grew until she could feel their cold rough flesh brushing against her own. Swimming harder now, and crying Ceilo could see no way out of this predicament. There was no land in site. She was going to be eaten. Suddenly the ocean around her began bubbling. Gently at first, the rising waves and froth surrounded her in white water. Scared by the noise and confusion the various sharks swam off into nowhere. Her friends the dolphins returned in a brilliant display of jumps and flips. Only as the dominant male swam towards her he transformed into a unique figure in her dream. It was Philippe. “Ceilo honey you were having a nightmare.” Her mother stood by her bed and gently roused her. “Not really.” Under her breath, Ceilo coughed out these words. Another cough followed this one and then another. Ceilo was coughing uncontrollably now. “Doctor we need to get her to the hospital.” Her father had entered the room. Only she kept shaking her head over and over again. “Perhaps she just needs a glass of water.” Standing in the doorway was Philippe, nodding her head quickly Ceilo reached out her hand for the glass he was carrying. “The medicine dries my throat out something awful.” In between gasping breaths she sucked down the sixteen ounce glass without blinking. “Good morning.” The look he was given was not one of gratefulness. In fact, they seemed down right pissed that he knew she needed water in the morning. “Good thing you happened to be here.” Hung over and tired her father was very sarcastic about his words. “Well I was on my way to work, and thought I would drop in for breakfast.” Even his explanation did little to change their opinion of his early arrival. “Give me a minute to get dressed.” Leaning forward Ceilo openly kissed him on the lips as if to tell her parents to back off. “Good morning it is nice to see you again.” Stepping back out of the room, Philippe walked quickly towards the steps. This was why he avoided parents in the past. They seemed to look right through him as if he were a glass window. “You are trying to sleep with my daughter!” The words were never spoken but the look said enough. “No, I have already slept your daughter.” Was the look he answered them with. Only today he tried his best to look humbly lost. “You know how to rub people the wrong way don‟t you?” Standing at the bottom of the stairs was Maya. “Yes but I know how to rub them the right way too.” Winking and sliding his hand past her face, Philippe continued towards the door. “When can you get over to help fix my damage?” Angry at his reference to their past sex life, Maya changed the subject. “End of the week. I have to do the rounds first.” Referring to the communal shutter project, it was agreed upon that they got first priority in post storm repair. Philippe was not about to break that time honored tradition. “Sometime before next hurricane season would be good.” Disappearing back into the house, she looked not too happy with his response. “I won‟t forget you.” Referring to the house repair, he did not think what affect his words would take. “Don‟t. It would be a mistake on your part.” With those words she was gone never giving him a chance to respond. “How could I my sweet?” Philippe was amazed at how well Maya had handled this whole situation up until now. Everything she had done to help Ceilo and to encourage him to follow his heart was admirable considering their past history. A ringing phone from his backpack surprised him. “Hey bro it‟s Julio. We have a problem.” They were instructed to use the satellite phones very sparingly, so Philippe could only imagine what this phone call could mean. “Talk to me.” His face was quite white as Ceilo descended the stairs. “What‟s wrong?” Sliding past her parents she recognized right away that something was dreadfully wrong. “I have to run down to the beach. We could use some help.” Racing out the front door he was followed by the Bella family. “Are you going to tell me where we are going?” Expecting to be eating breakfast now, Ceilo was growing more and more nervous. “Over there.” They were driving very fast considering the road conditions were still not back to normal. Flashing his headlights at intersections, none of the other drivers seemed the least bit concerned by the truck running all of the four way stop signs. Gathered on the sand were at least a dozen people frantically running around with no semblance of order to their movement. When they got to the beach, Ceilo finally realized what was causing such a stir. Stretched out for a hundred yards in either direction were a dozen beached dolphins. In various positions the beautiful creatures looked completely out of place. “When the waves crash in push them out to sea. Keep their blow holes above the water and try to keep them moving.” Philippe crashed down in the water while yelling out instructions. “Where are the rest of your people?” Yelling at Julio he hoped to get an explanation for the small turn out of volunteers. “They‟re trying to put their houses back together.” “No excuse, call them all. Get them here now!” Pulling one of the more active youngsters back into the ocean Philippe tried his best to keep the little man moving. “Find the alpha male. Get him back in the water. Then start moving the rest of them.” Knowing that dolphins usually beached themselves when the leader did likewise he knew their only chance to save them was to get everyone of them moving out to sea. “No full grown males in the bunch. I checked that already.” Fighting against a very feisty female Julito tried his best to head her back out to sea. Only every time he got her moving in the right direction, she turned right back again. “Where is Teri?” The trainer from Anthony‟s Key was one of the foremost authorities on dolphins in the island. On the two other occasions where dolphins had beached themselves on Roatan she was able to save the majority of them. “Flying back from Teculigulpa as we speak. Should be here in less than an hour?” Getting frustrated now with the three hundred pound female, Julito moved to some of the youngsters instead. “Here come some more.” Three of the assistant trainers from the Key came running up the beach. “Where‟s the alpha?” Petra had a very heavy Russian accent but everyone knew what she was saying. “Can‟t find one.” Not the foremost authority by any means, Ceilo had caught onto what they were saying. Her mother stared her down from the beach. She could not believe her desperately sick daughter was pulling these large fish back into the ocean. If she was shocked by this, she was flabbergasted by her husband who had rolled up his slacks and was standing in the shallows with two of the volunteers. “This is the pod from the hole yes?” Turning to Philippe, Petra knew that he dove there frequently. “Yeah this them. I don‟t see the big guy though.” Pods of wild dolphins tended to consist of two groups; a pod of females and youngsters with one alpha male or young sexually mature males. This group was missing it‟s lone reproductive male. “This one isn‟t breathing!” One of the larger females had stopped moving her blowhole and eyes had closed. “Get out of the way!” Terri showed up from out of nowhere. In her hand she had a small medical bag. “Where‟s doctor Fernandez?” Up until a month ago there were three qualified marine Veterinarians on the island. Then without warning two of them were lured to more lucrative positions in the US leaving just Dr. Fernandez. “He took a vacation when Wilma showed up. No one has heard from him in week.” Looking ready to rip of Julito‟s head she turned towards him. “Are you kidding me?” These were trying times as it was. How were they supposed to support a captive dolphin facility without a marine Veterinarian? Sometimes these small islands and their unreliable professionals really annoyed her. “The new guy is supposed to start next week.” One of the vets from a Bahama‟s facility of some note had agreed to start a month ago, but his schedule was thrown off by the hurricane. “Pardon my French, but what bloody good does that do us now?” With the needle buried in the pectoral fin of the dolphin, Teri was looking for any reaction at all. Suddenly she began twitching and then her eyes began blinking. “Okay I need a status check. Who has what dolphin and how are they doing?” Instantly taking charge of the situation she wanted to only work with the sickest animals. “The big female is being stubborn. She has plenty of gas but keeps heading in.” Pointing towards the creature he had just abandoned, Julito felt guilty for the lack of trained personnel. It was his job to keep the dolphins of the Key in good health. “This one keeps listing from side to side.” One of the less informed volunteers, held up their hands. “You need to keep his head further above water and move him around a bit.” Trying to be patient with the untrained Teri was growing more and more angry. “Where is our boat?” Looking around for any sign of organization, she came across Philippe who was trying not to make eye contact. “On it‟s way. They were using it to clear debris from the nets back at the key.” It was Julio who turned her attention away. “Keep them moist and keep them floating. It‟s okay baby. You‟ll be okay.” As if talking to a child that had hurt itself, Teri tried her best to keep the yearling moving. The youngest and eldest of a pod were the most likely to die in the event of beaching. They were not able to recover as quickly. Even if they were returned to the ocean they tended to either beach themselves again or die shortly thereafter. “Scusi!” Holding up his hand and waving was Ceilo‟s father. Teri dove towards him handing the young one to another trainer. “She‟s in shock. Where‟s my boat!” Just as Teri screamed a motor boat came flying around the peninsula towards them. It was followed shortly thereafter by two other boats. “Get these three back to facility. Petra go with them!” The harnesses and stretchers flew over the sides or the pontoons, as several people moved the dolphins into position. “How far are we from the hole?” Having spent much of her time with the captive dolphins, Teri had little occasion to see the wild pods. “Less than a half mile that a way.” Pointing towards an indiscriminant location in the ocean, Philippe barely received a nod in return. “Try to swim this big girl out there. See if we can get a few of the stronger ones to follow.” Moving her hand over the belly of the eldest and largest of the dolphins, she became consciously aware that this dolphin was pregnant. “Gotcha.” Strapping on his fins, and mask Philippe gave her a gentle push off the beach. Every time she tried to turn around he gave her another gentle push out to sea. “Why do they do this?” Ceilo watched the eyes of the barely six month old baby she was holding start to glass over. A person in her condition could not be expected to deal well with death. It was heart wrenching to see something so beautiful dying and yet be able to do so little about it. “No one knows really. Some people blame pollutants in the ocean others say military sonar is to blame. Personally I think a voice somewhere in their heads just says head for the beach.. It‟s also possible that after hurricanes and large storms they get disoriented by the change in underwater relief. They lose direction.” In between putting on his fins and cleaning up his mask Philippe answered her question. “If you look at fossilized records it would appear dolphins and whales have been beaching themselves for hundreds of thousands of years, so I think human interference is not as likely a culprit as most marine biologists would want you to believe.” Pulling herself up into the boat Petra added in her two cents worth. “Why can‟t we just tow them back out to sea and let them go?” In Italian her father whispered these words which she translated. “Most of the time they will either just beach themselves again or in their weakened condition they might very well drowned. That‟s why we are trying to keep them moving and getting the strongest swimmer back out to sea.” Teri watched as Philippe struggled to keep the pregnant female on course. Just when it seemed she would follow him, she turned back around towards the sand. For nearly an hour, they played this game. Finally a frustrated Philippe held up his hands. “I don‟t know what else to do.” The words were no sooner out of his mouth when another fin surfaced about fifty yards seaward of him. “About damn time where the hell have you been?” Yelling at the mature male dolphin like a teenager coming in late on a school night Philippe raised his hands up in the air. Seeming to realize he was being scolded the newly arrived pod leader, kept his distance. “Come on now Moses lead your people back out into the desert.” Everyone watched as the leader made his rounds. Circling each of the fallen group and their rescuer he was not sure exactly what he should do. Then without warning he began to click and whine making an awful racket both above and below the ocean‟s surface. It took a minute or two but the pregnant female finally turned towards the sea again. Then one of the young males did the same. Of the nine remaining dolphins only two chose to keep their present position. “Okay lets concentrate on these two.” Teri pulled the little baby from Ceilo‟s arms, and pushed it out towards the sea. Another volley of noises from the alpha male seemed to catch it‟s attention. It turned out away from her. Extremely weakened and disoriented though it could barely swim. “How about that one Pedro?” A female less than three months old was straining to move. Her protective mother was keeping vigil from about a hundred yards away. Every few minutes she swam close and then moved back out towards the retreating pod. “She doesn‟t seem to want to go.” One of the new assistants at the Key, Pedro had never been a part of this. Without warning the dolphin closed her eyes and began turning over onto her side. “No No No! What is she doing?” Several of the volunteers rushed to her side, but it was too late. “Come on now baby. Come back to us.” Needle in hand, Teri tried to resuscitate the fallen dolphin, but this time it was working. “Come on you can do it.” Wiping flowing tears from her eyes, Ceilo tried to get the dolphin moving again. “Don‟t give up. Don‟t give up now.” Wrapping her arms around the baby, everyone else cleared away from her. Only a few of the people there knew of her malady, the rest just assumed she was very emotional. “I‟ll take her out.” Taking her by the dorsal and pectoral fin, Philippe swam her lifeless body out to the pod. Twice the mother charged out him and squawked her disapproval, but he was not shaken. Even when she attempted to rake him with her teeth, Philippe merely ducked under her and came back to the surface. “Let her go Philippe there‟s nothing more to do.” Knowing that an angry full grown female dolphin can do a fair bit of damage to a diver, Teri tried to persuade him to stop. Only he just kept right on swimming. Several of the other members of the pod joined in the harassment now. Even “Moses” pushed gently at Philippe‟s side with his nose trying to get him out of harm‟s way. “It‟s not your time to die.” Whispering quietly into the little dolphin‟s ear hole, Philippe could not believe her life would end like this. She was too young to die. Her eyes fluttered briefly for a second or two giving him hope that she might come to. “That‟s it. Come back to us.” A couple of convulsions in her belly sent waves of muscle contractions all the way down to her tail. The mother came in and starting prodding her fluke gently. Blinking several times, and taking a couple long deep breaths, she was moving again. “Bingo.” Kissing her a couple of times on her side, Philippe let her go. Two of the members of the pod came up along side her. They kept her swimming occasionally moved her back up to the surface when she grew weak. “My God it‟s a miracle.” Signing the cross on his chest, Pedro could not believe what he had just witnessed. “She was dead. You saw it Teri. She was dead.” Completely unnerved now, he kept looking at the other volunteers for reassurance that he was not losing it. “That she was Pedro. That she was.” Her attention was focused on Philippe who casually strolled up onto the sand. He took Ceilo in his arms and held her whilst she cried some more. Her mother and father looked at him with a completely different sense of wonderment. Who was the young man? “Let‟s get going, I have some work to do.” Not dwelling on what had just happened, and not willing to be praised for his efforts, Philippe walked past the throng of onlookers without saying another word. Chapter 27: Island Time There was a lot of conversation going on in the back seat of the truck, while Philippe drove over the hill. Then without warning they slammed on their brakes. Two cars were parked in the road side by side. The two drivers were talking to each other. Cars were lined up in both directions behind them. “What‟s going on? Are they broken down or something?” Looking at the line, Ceilo could not imagine what had transpired. “Nope they‟re just talking.” Sitting back casually, Philippe looked longingly down at the pack of cigarettes on the seat next to him. “Why don‟t you honk your horn at them?” Reaching for the horn, she was surprised when Philippe caught her hand. “They‟re almost done.” Sure enough twenty seconds later both vehicles continued on their way down the street. The conversation from the back seat grew louder and more confusing now. Eventually the moved along, and traffic continued. “It‟s an island thing. You wouldn‟t understand.” Before she could ask him exactly what that was about he answered her. “Back before cell phones and home phones were really popular in the islands, locals used to stop their cars in the street to discuss life. It was considered rude to honk at someone who was merely saying hello. The tradition remains strong.” Winking at Ceilo Philippe turned the truck back into Maya‟s driveway. Breakfast had turned into lunch, and the four of them lined up at one of the makeshift restaurants to be served. “Thank You.” Without looking at the wad of cash that was in his hand, Philippe merely handed it over to them. “Wow that seems like an expensive lunch. How much did it cost?” With her father already reaching into his wallet, Philippe shook his head. “It‟s free for those who need it, and you determine how much it costs for those who don‟t.” Maya basically supplemented the entire process out of her own personal bank account. For those hurting for money they got a free lunch. For those who had money they gave what they could to help bear the cost of her burden. Word had gotten around about what had happened down at the beach, and several of the locals were gathering by Philippe‟s side to ask him about it. “Rumor has it you brought that dolphin back from the dead.” In Creole one of the many Haitian fisherman jabbed at his side, and smiled. “Wasn‟t me man. She brought herself back.” They joked and kidded around as if part of one very big extended family. Not once did Philippe think to introduce them to the Bellas. It was not that he was rude. On the contrary it would have seemed rude to introduce these close people to ones he barely knew by sight much less name. “What is this we‟re eating?” Poking at the salty lump of meat, and turning up her nose, Ceilo was starting to feel out of place. “Eggs, Aki and Salt fish. It‟s an island thing. Very acquired taste.” The two men seemed to be scoffing the mixture down without questioning, but Ceilo and her mother ate nothing but the runny scrambled eggs. As the day went on more and more of the island eccentricities came into play. Never was the gap between them larger than when they pulled into the local hardware store to stock up on supplies. “That person has been standing at the counter for ten minutes just talking. What‟s wrong?” Not a very impatient person, Ceilo and her parents looked ready to riot. “Nothing is wrong. They‟re just talking.” Patience is a virtue. Never were these words of wisdom more appropriate then in the islands. Whether it was the West Indies or the Bay Islands it really didn‟t matter. “Island Time” is slow. For those who grow up in it or around it, “Island Time” was a precious gift. For those coming in from the outside, it was a cancerous waste of time. Some of them travel half way across the planet to sample it for a vacation only to curse it when it does not meet their purpose. “How do you deal with this?” Practically pulling at her hair now, Ceilo could not believe that everyone in line was taking this so well. Getting the lumber took an hour because the person loading it onto the truck stopped in the middle to eat his lunch. Getting the aluminum siding took forty minutes because the young lady who worked in that department moved slower than a dead person. Now going through checkout was taking forever. This did not even take into account that the store was over run by hundreds of extra people getting supplies to correct hurricane damage. “I could ask you the same question about where you come from. How do you deal with fast food or with people who are never satisfied unless it is bigger, better, or faster? How can you take time to relax when you never take time to breath?” Holding her hand gently to his heart he spoke these words quietly so as not to draw undue attention. “There is a big difference between relaxation and this.” Pointing to the cashier who was now hitting on the man in line, Ceilo shook her head back and forth. “Not in this world there isn‟t.” Once the conversation was complete the rest of the line moved quite smoothly until Philippe got to the front of the line. “N‟ap boule. Tout bagay anfom?” There was that language again. For ten minutes they discussed everything from the dolphins to Christian, and not one person asked for them to move along. By the time they got to the truck, his Italian guests looked ready to explode. “It‟s night time, and what have we done today.” Her mother was the angriest of the bunch. Ripping at the very fabric of Roatan, she begged her daughter to get them out of this backwards place. “What have we done?” Silent until this moment, Philippe recognized this statement and was about to retort. “We saved the lives of dozen dolphins. We had a nice meal. We got the supplies to help put a several businesses back together. We helped put food on the table for at least three times that many families. How can you ask what we did today?” It was the first time he had shown his angry side to Ceilo, and she backed up from his words. “I lost time today Philippe. Do you have any idea how precious time is to me right now?” Taking his hand, she tried to put her frustration and that of her family‟s into perspective. “Forgive me for saying so, but you lost nothing today, and you gained so much more. Sometimes you have to open your eyes to see the worth of minute things; the sunset for instance. Look out there at the horizon, and tell me what you see. Do you see the end to another day or the beginning of another beautiful night? Is you glass half full or half empty?” There was no response from her. After she translated it to her parents he at least expected to hear something from them, but there was nothing. “I agree with you that time is precious. Every second should be cherished. However, sometimes you have to cherish the simple things that time presents not just the minutes used on a clock.” Dropping them off at the front step to Maya‟s house, Philippe pointed towards his left wrist where a normal person might have a watch. Just as he was about to pull away Ceilo took that hand in hers. “Mama I am going to go out with him for a while. Would you two like to come?” They were still dumfounded by their day and were not sure how to react. Finally as if light had dawned on their day, she spoke. “No baby. You two go out and have wonderful evening. We are going to sit down and watch the rest of the sunset with a new sense of purpose.” Her words brought tears to her daughter‟s eyes. “I love you.” Kissing each other on the lips, she got into the truck with Philippe. “Take me someplace new. Someplace I have never seen before.” Holding her hand to the window, they pulled back out onto the road. “I think a trip to Sunnyside is in order.” Not explaining himself to her, Philippe merely drove down the road without words. Even in the dying light of day, Ceilo could see the lush tropical beauty of Vista Villa. Unlike most of the hillside on the rest of the island, this was nearly virginal with only one or two cabins. Other than a large pier jetting out into the water there was nothing more to see on the beach. Pulling snorkel gear out of the back of the truck, Philippe winked and her and motioned for her to follow. “Come on. I want to show you something.” Strolling over to the locked gate of the pier, Philippe stuck his rather large hand through and whistled. It took a minute or two, but a security guard finally showed up. Taking what was in his hand, he opened the gate to let the two of them out, and then moved to where they were. “Where are we going?” It was dark out now, and Ceilo could not imagine what he was going to do with the snorkeling gear at night. “Do you trust me?” His words were reminiscent of the first time, he led her into the water. They brought a reluctant smile to her face. “I guess so?” Was he really going to take her in the water at night? What kind of crazy person goes snorkeling when there is nothing to see? “I don‟t really have a bathing suit?” Her answer to this question came swiftly as he threw off all his clothes except his boxer briefs. “You won‟t need one.” Slowly and seductively removing her blouse and shorts he gently fitted her with the gear, and then handed her a flashlight. “See that great big full moon up there. For the most part you won‟t even need this little guy.” With the high tide pulling right up near the base of the dock, he slid gently into the water and then helped her down. Even with the water so stirred up from Wilma, this visibility was excellent. At first he turned on the light to show her the variety of fish and magnificent colors that the night brought out. The reds and oranges of their evening counterparts replaced most of the brightly colored fish from the daytime. It was a lot like a factory. When the day shift left the night shift came in. Only they were completely different people. Initially her heart rate soared wanting to spin around constantly in circles to see what might be sneaking up on her. As time wore on though, she felt all of her anxiety ooze out into the water. There was something incredibly peaceful about the night in the ocean. It almost lulled her into its darkened calm. As they moved further and further away from the reef itself, Philippe brought her to his favorite spot. Gathering on a large patch of sand, he stood up in the four feet of water, and then signaled for her to do the same. “Now we wait.” Holding the two flashlights underwater, he turned them both on full blast. Thousands of micro organisms gathered in the light like moths drawn to a flame. “What are we waiting for?” No sooner had the words left her mouth, then three of four large shadows began moving in towards them. Gripping his arm tightly she pointed towards the huge shapes gliding towards them. “Put your head back down in the water. Trust me it‟s worth it.” It took a few seconds before she finally got up the nerve to do it, but when she did. “Oh my God they are so beautiful.” At first there were three of four of the large wing like creatures, however in a few minutes a dozen encircled them. Drawn to the creatures that fed in the light, these manta rays began to feed. They danced a waltz so effortlessly they appeared like butterflies riding the mid day wind. Their ballet was spectacular. Rubber like bodies contorting in impossible angles, they glided like angels on the clouds. Even their massive size did little a scare Ceilo who twice got up the nerve to run her hand along their smooth skin. For an hour Ceilo watched them longingly wanted so much to move like they did. It was the cold that finally got the better of her, and she signaled that they should go back. By the time they got to the car she was shivering. Turning on the heat, Philippe rubbed down her body. “They are so incredible. That was magnifico!” Screaming loudly and drumming on the dashboard, she looked ready to sing. “I thought you might like that.” Feeling very proud of his choice Philippe beamed almost as brightly as the yellow moon above his head. Parked by the side of the road, they were conspicuously all alone. Without warning, Ceilo pulled off her wet underwear and curled both herself and her towel up around Philippe. Still shivering from the cool night, she rubbed her ice cold nose against his cheek playfully. “What would you parents think if they saw you here?” Trying his best to fain a frown, Philippe rubbed the goose bumps from her body, and then put them back on when he kissed her neck. “We should have a party.” Feeling several twinges in her lower abdomen, Ceilo blinked her eyes several times. “What would be the occasion?” Was her birthday coming up? They had such a whirlwind courtship there had never been time for the usual pleasantries. “People celebrate birthdays. Why not a deathday? We should have a goodbye celebration. I mean after all if you believe in God, I‟m going to a better place right?” Speaking about this was strange for her. All of her friends and doctors had tried to so hard not to approach this conversation that to here her say it felt weird. “Well I…” It was a first for Philippe Lacroix. He honestly had not idea what to say to this. Struggling to get a grip on the moment, his brain was totally blank. “Deathday might be a bit harsh everyone dressed in black and such. How about we just do some sort of goodbye celebration?” Never had she seen Philippe at a loss for words. Often he kept them to himself, but at least she could tell he had something to say. Right now he looked totally and utterly perplexed. “Have you ever lost anyone close to you before?” Choosing his words carefully, Philippe whispered in her still quite cold ear. “No.” Leaning back far enough to look into his eyes, Ceilo felt bad for her suggestion now. “Heaven may be the Nirvana everyone says it is, but dying is not all its cracked up to be. If you want to do a pre- heaven party I say all the power to you. I‟ll buy the balloons and the tequila. Let‟s not call it a deathday though okay.” Although he did not intend his words to be funny, Ceilo had to struggle to hold back a giggle. “I mean no disrespect but balloons and tequila? You have to admit that‟s funny.” The serious look on his face, and the loss of his family were all that kept her from bursting out in laughter. “No matter how serious we are about death it doesn‟t go away. Let‟s celebrate it.” Biting her lip to squash a pain in her lower back, Ceilo closed her eyes. “You‟re in pain?” How much Philippe wished he could take her pain unto himself? “So what else is new? Come on lets have a party; a real fun one for all your friends. Mine are too far away.” Squeezing him tighter than usual she fought a stinger building in her side. It felt like when she ran too quickly as a child and could not breath. “Medicine?” Trembling from the cold was much more pronounced than from pain. Her mannerisms were completely different. It was almost like an alternate personality. “Left it at the Estate. You‟re avoiding…” Ready to scream now, she took a deep breath. “Avoiding the question.” Slamming her fists against the roof of the truck she let out a holler. Philippe turned his head to the side and bit his own lip. “A party sounds like a wonderful idea to me.” Little could she see, his fingers had ripped into the leather seats below him. His arms shook almost as violently as she did. “Good then. Maybe Maya can help…” Falling quite ungracefully into the passenger seat, Ceilo tried to reorient herself. “Help plan it.” The most violent and atrocious menstrual pains could not compare with what she was going through. Plus to add to this her very blood felt as if it were on fire. “Lets get you back home.” The more he thought about her idea for a good bye party the more depressed her grew. It would have been nice to do the same for the rest of his family. It might have been better to know they were going to die. At least he could have said that he loved them. At least he could have said his final farewell. Then again watching Ceilo slowly fade away was painful. Since the day she got to Roatan, she had already dropped at least ten pounds. On men this kind of change was barely noticeable. On a petite woman it was quite dramatic. “Perhaps I should put some clothes back on. My parents might not believe my snorkeling with manta ray story.” They both laughed in spite of the situation. Chapter 28: The Video Tape “A party? Do I want to plan a party? What a stupid question to ask?” Even though she was swamped with people and recovery efforts, Maya jumped at the idea. Money was already flowing in from insurance checks and vulture real estate deals. American‟s had this sick fascination with offering money for damaged properties much in the same way real estate moguls searched the obituaries for new available houses. “Well I wasn‟t sure if the occasion or the person?” Trying his best to be tactful, Philippe handed her a glass of red wine and collapsed on the couch next to her. “I adore Ceilo so stop with that crap, and as far as a goodbye party for someone who is dying; I say why the hell not!” It was obvious that Maya had partaken of more than just this latest glass of wine this evening. “Good. I will find us the venue if you can handle the rest of arrangements. Try to keep the cost down if you can?” Knowing her tendency for extravagance, he felt it necessary to preface this request. “I most certainly will not! A goodbye should never be cheap. You give me what you can.” In her pocket book was a check from the Honduran government for letting them use her Estate as it‟s headquarters. There were enough Lempiras in there to host a real send off fit for a queen. “I‟ll make up the guest list.” He could always count on Maya. Morning came far too swiftly, and the late fall sun was especially potent as he began rebuilding the Twisted Toucan. “Some tourist found our sign down by the beach two miles from here.” Mike spent more time smoking than he did helping. Holding up the two pieces of wooden Toucan he laughed quite loudly. “Well I can have you back in service on the bar by the end of the day.” Most of the damage was external paneling and roofing that needed to be replaced. The electrical and kitchen facilities actually held up well considering they had all been exposed to sideways rain and salt water. “Yeah well without power and water, it might make our reopening a bit premature. Even with a generator we have no bathroom facilities.” Kevin was still relatively sober. Running short on funds, he took very little time out from the rebuilding process to do any extracurricular activities. It was just around noon when Philippe finished up the last of his temporary fixes. Eventually he would have to make some more permanent repairs to the damaged bar and roof struts. “So what is this I hear about a going away party for Ceilo? Is she going back to Italy?” Both Kevin and Philippe turned to face Mike and shook their heads. “I‟ll explain it to him later. Thanks for your help.” Handing his a large envelope of Mike‟s money, Kevin smacked his friend on the back of the head. Stop number two was Villa Del Sol dive shop. It took far greater damage than the Toucan. The entire back deck and boat dock were damaged beyond repair. For the rest of the afternoon he ripped out the remnants of both, and laid a new one in place. “C‟est ce bon!” The owner a Frenchman named Portis gave him a great big hug. “Tomorrow you give me a roof?” Handing him another large envelope of money, Portis picked up his cell phone dialed the marina. “Move the boats back.” Waving to Philippe as he left, he was overjoyed to be able to reopen his business again. A large group of Japanese tourists were due in two weeks from today. They obviously did not follow the news very well. It didn‟t matter though. A generator could run his facility just fine. “What did you three do today?” Just from the night before, Ceilo looked like she had lost another pound or two. Large bags under her eyes let him know she had not been sleeping. When she raised her arms he could see her ribs quite clearly. “My parents are still out on an island tour with Julito. Truth be told I spent most of my day wrapped around a toilet. Wanna kiss me?” Trying to perk herself up she leaned in towards him. “Sorry.” There was nothing more to say. Kissing her cheek he hugged her quite gently. “What would you like to do tonight?” Tempted to stop working for a while and spend as much time with her as possible, Philippe looked at two smashed windows on the villa and changed his mind. It was not fair to stop working when Roatan needed him so much as well. “Cuddle up on a couch, pop some pills, and fall asleep to a good movie.” In order to conserve fuel they had been asked not use too many lights in the house. Unfortunately the darkness did little to lift her already fragile psyche. All she felt like doing was sleeping but the pain woke her up every few minutes. Even the drugs could do little to make it dissipate. “I can do that.” From his backpack, he pulled out several videos. “You come prepared.” Pulling him by the hand she led him up to her room. Then flopping down in bed she opened the floodgates on her pill bottles. ”Happy, Sad, or Scary?” Holding the three behind his back, Philippe waited for her to make a decision. “Try the scary one maybe it will keep me more alert.” Winking as she spoke, Ceilo had all intentions of taking of advantage of her parent‟s absence. Fifteen minutes into the movie she was sound asleep. It was a good thing too. “White Noise” was not the movie for her to watch right now. For that matter Philippe should not have been watching it either. The basic premise was that; a man is contacted by his dead wife through the white noise of a radio or television. It was quite a good supernatural flick, but the dealing with death part would not have gone over well. “I wonder if that crap works.” Most of the movie seemed farfetched, but constant references to real life facts had Philippe thinking. Could you really hear the voices of the dead through electric waves? If so what would his family say to him? What would Ceilo tell him should she die tomorrow? These were not the kind of thoughts he needed going through his mind before he fell asleep. When he woke up, Ceilo was poking his side. “You were having a nightmare.” Startled and looking around the room for dead people Phillip barely noticed the sun was up. Struggling to look at his watch, he shook his head. “Have to go to work I will see you later?” Hopping out of bed he kissed her eyes one at a time, and disappeared out the door in the same clothes from the day before, having never taken a shower. For some reason he never thought to take the movies with him. “White Noise” had much the same affect on Ceilo as it did him. “What would I say to my family and friends if I were dead?” Picking up a pad and paper she began to write and write. By lunchtime she had written nearly a hundred pages. Two or three times her parents stopped in to check on her. “No I‟m fine. Of course you can go to the beach, I‟ll be fine.” By the time dinner time came, she had already written a novella. “Maya?” Coming around the corner she got the busy woman‟s attention. “Do you have a video camera?” This idea came to her when her hand began to cramp up. “Of course dear. It is in the closet.” Kissing the top of her head, she returned to her life. “Okay Mr. Demill it‟s time for my close up.” It was almost eight o‟clock by the time she finished making her documentary. Ten minutes later Philippe came strolling into the room. “Sleeping peacefully.” Leaning down to kiss her cheek, Philippe stopped just short. Her skin was very cold and clammy. Scared and confused, he leaned it to make sure she was breathing. “Jesus you scared the shit out of me.” Gently shaking her, he was surprised that she did not come to right away. “I don‟t want to wake you baby, but I need to know you are all right.” Much like the parent that stirs their sleeping child out of fear, Philippe did the same. “Five more minutes mama. I‟m really tired.” Finally she reacted to his prodding. Covering her with every blanket available, Philippe wondered what had gotten her so wound up. His eyes met with the video camera hooked into the television. “What is this?” Struggling to get the video tape working he sat down by the bed side to watch the video. “Hello everyone. This is the story of the life of one Ceilo Francesca Bella. Chances are if you are watching this then I am not here to watch it with you. So grab some popcorn and a couple of tissues. At times it will be quite funny. At other times it will be quite sad.” For each emotion she discussed the natural actor imitated the physical reaction. It was endearing and sweet. Coming to the end of the two and half hour video Philippe could barely breath. “The rest of this tape is filled with individual messages for my closest family and friends. I would ask that you only watch your segments because of the nature of the messages.” Pressing stop almost immediately, Philippe was not sure what he should do. Was there a message on there for him? “Well only one way to find out.” Pressing play he fast forwarded through at least a dozen names including Maya, Christian, and the Alvarez family. Feeling slightly short changed in a weird way he was about to give up when he heard. “Last but most certainly not least for Monsieur Philippe Lacroix. Mama and Papa step away please this is going to get a little sappy.” Pausing for a few seconds it was as if she were actually waiting for them to leave the room. “It‟s hard to believe there is still such a thing as a twenty one year old child in this day and age, but I was one. Coming to Roatan I had no idea about life much less about love. Every thing in my life has changed, and it is because of you.” There was a brief stop in the video where she had obviously paused to wipe away some tears. “I wish I could say that we are going to have a lot of time to get to know each other. I wish that I could say that I will be around to kiss you day after day for years to come. I can‟t do that. As much as I live in the dream world chasing dolphins from Italy to Honduras, I am a realist.” Again the tape stopped as her voice began to crack. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Philippe was not sure if he could go on much longer. “I love you. How much simpler can I put it? You took a frightened sickly caterpillar and turned her into a blossoming butterfly. Unfortunately like most blissfully beautiful creatures, we don‟t last long.” Laughing in spite of her own modestly, Ceilo wiped a few more tears from her eyes. “So lets hope that these final few days show us flying high on the wind and waves. Make me forget this place for a while.” Pointing towards her table full of medicines she lit up the room with one of her patented smiles. “Love me as best you can, and I will do the same.” Leaning in to the camera she kissed the lens and then fell back onto the bed pulling all of the covers up around her. Her lip prints stayed on the lens. As he looked now he could still see the imprint. When the screen went black he turned to face her sleeping form. Only she wasn‟t sleeping anymore. Her eyes were blinking at him. “Did you watch the whole thing?” Sounding hoarse almost laryngitic, Ceilo struggled to talk against her fatigue. “Only the part that applied to me.” Stroking her hair gently, he wondered what in the world he could say to her now. “Good. I would rather you see it while I‟m still here. Therefore you have no regrets when I am gone and neither do I.” Closing her eyes again, she drifted back to sleep. Slipping out of the room, he ran into Maya in the hallway. “How‟s she doing? She looked pretty bad earlier.” Not looking so good herself, Maya had stretched herself too thin the last couple of weeks. Living on coffee and red wine she did little to help her appearance. “How‟s the party coming along? Do you need any help getting things going?” Skipping completely over any question he felt uncomfortable about answering, was common for Philippe. This was no different. “Brilliantly. It will be a small intimate gathering with tons of panache. She‟ll love it.” Bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, he remembered what he liked about her. Driven by success small and large she lived to please. “Fantastic she‟s going to need it.” Closing his eyes he took a long hard breath and remembered the video tape. “Something you want to talk about?” Worrying so much about Ceilo and her family the last couple of days, she forgot what kind of an effect this might be having on him. That was the problem with such guarded souls as Philippe Lacroix. You never knew what hurt or concerned him. “I‟ll be here next week early to work on your place. We got a lot done, but Wilma really tore up the island.” A changed of subject was in order. “Good I can‟t have the estate looking like a refugee camp.” Winking at him, she pranced down the stairs. On his way up was Julito followed by Ceilo‟s parents. With a nod and wave he raced down past the three of them. “Mom would like you to come by the house tonight if you have a chance.” Still miffed with him from two nights prior, Julito barely took time to acknowledge him. “Thanks.” Driving down the dark and winding roads, Philippe marveled at the beauty of the night. People in the country take for granted the heavenly visions above their heads. They do not realize that most of the rest of the world never gets to see the stars in all their grandeur. Blocked out by city lights the view of the universe is restricted. Hurricanes bring over populated areas a country view. It was one of the few good side effects of not having any power. Caught up in the brilliance of the night, he nearly drove passed the driveway to the Alvarez estate. Stopping at the gate, his heart jumped into his throat. There was an ambulance and two police vehicles parked there. “Oh what the hell now?” Gunning the truck down the road, he screeched to halt behind the emergency vehicles. Carolina came running to his side. “Juan started to have trouble breathing. He turned purple. I don‟t know what‟s wrong. They won‟t tell me what‟s wrong.” Completely distraught she was balling tears the size of cough drops. Raising his arms in the air he approached one the emergency personnel. “Heart attack in my guess. Follow behind.” Rushing him into the ambulance, his friend Reno took very little time to explain the situation. “Come with me.” Taking Carolina by the arm, she led her to the garage. As he walked her towards the Lincoln, he rang Julito. In minutes all of the family members had been contacted, and were moving for the Woods Medical Center in Coxen Hole. Normally an event like this would land one at Honduras Public Hospital, but the governor would not be subjected to that kind of treatment. For every attempt of the emergency vehicles to distance themselves, Philippe came charging up on their rear. When they pulled into the hospital, he nearly crashed into the rear of the ambulance. Dr. Woods-Bush for whom the medical center was named, met them at the emergency room door. “Oxygen count is low. Sharp pains in the chest. Restricted blood flow to the extremities.” Considering his past experiences with the Honduran medical system, Philippe was impressed with how well they were dealing with this. “Governor I need you to pay attention. We are not going to able to take you Tegulcalpa. Your private physical and the cardiologist are being medivac‟d in now as we speak. Until then you‟ve got me, and I‟m real good.” Squeezing his hand tightly, she remembered how influential he was in getting this clinic established. Her hard work, and his hard head convinced many of those who thought the Roatan hospital was sufficient enough, that this center was very important to the people. Countless lives had been saved by his decision, so she helped she could do the same for him. “Okay now where does it hurt?” Already drawing blood and treating him without announcing what she was doing, the doctor tried to get more information and get his mind off what everyone else was doing around him. “I can‟t breath.” Struggled to talk he looked quite frightened. It was not until he saw Carolina and Philippe that he regaining his composure. “It hurts right here, and down through here.” Biting his lip Philippe looked frightened. It was important that he stay strong now, because his wife looked like she might crack up at any second. “Oxygen. Atrophine two milligrams. I want updates every ten minutes until Dr. Paul gets here.” Reading through his medical chart which he carried with him everywhere, she looked at his history. For a man of such great strength and power, she could see he was not a man of good health. Three heart related issues by his age did not show someone who was long for this world. “Having you been taking your meds?” Reading Dr. Paul‟s notes in the margin, she saw several asterisks next to “Must Remember to take his Medication.” “Governor!” When she did not get an answer, she grew silent more stern. “The hurricane and everything. I really haven‟t had time.” Instead of frightened now, Carolina looked like she might punch him in the face. “Damn it Juan how many times have I told you!” Philippe caught her before he got to his side. It would do no good to have this conversation now. Chapter 29: Dumb American For the first time in two weeks the hurricane recovery or lack there of was not the top news story. Instead Governor Alvarez and his apparent heat attack had taken that spot. “Well he never was very healthy. What do you expect?” It pained Philippe to have to listen to the uneducated meanderings of the average resident of the “Tan”. Most of them knew very little about either the governor or what had happened. “Don‟t let them get to you. After all what do they know?” Tired of sitting in a darkened room waiting to die, Ceilo forced herself to go out with Philippe. Although most of her time was spent lounging in the sun, occasionally she was able to assist the contractors much like a nurse would. “Hammer and sixteen penny nails please.” Considering the education and background of many of the people working with them, everyone was very polite. By now, she was growing quite adept at knowing exactly what equipment they might need for what job. “I‟m tired of the way people applaud him at fundraisers and then stab him in the back in a public forum.” Yelling loud enough so that everyone at the café could hear him, Philippe was tempted to drop his hammer inadvertently on their yuppie, café mocha, drinking table. “The nature of politics my friend.” Turning around to face the very snide, Kevin, Philippe scowled at his friend. “Sorry to agree with him but he‟s right. Politicians and famous people are open game for discussion.” Shrugging her shoulders Ceilo, wanted him to understand. “People should be treated like people regardless of what position or financial status they hold. At least that is my opinion.” Although several of the helpers nodded their heads no one seemed ready to verbally agree with him. “Yeah well you are an idealist who doesn‟t spend his hours reading the National Inquirer and Soap Opera digest. That makes you a rarity in this world my friend.” Trying to get them back to focus Peter, the owner of Villa Del Sol, handed him a piece of aluminum siding. “Hey so what is with this party I have been hearing all about?” Even before finishing the statement Peter got whacked on the side of the head. “Never mind must be the voices in my brain again.” Several of Philippe‟s friends looked ready to kill the man. Ceilo simply laughed. It was hard to plan a surprise party for the person who came up with the idea in the first place. They were on their fourth disaster location of the day now, and everyone looked about ready to collapse in the eight five plus degree heat. What kept them going and motivated was the line forming two hundred yards to their east. Nearly a thousand residents of the “Tan” showed up in Coxen Hill to receive ice and water from the Honduran government. Some of them had been there for ten hours already. It was heartbreaking. Mothers with children and the elderly who could barely stand, braved heat and exhaustion just to get a single five pound bag of ice and two gallons of water. “This is maddening. Why don‟t they just go door to door and drop off the supplies at their houses?” For most of the day, Ceilo had kept her mouth shut about the island politics. She had overlooked the hundreds of people lined up in gas lines. She had neglected to comment on the thousands more setting up temporary residents on the beaches. This latest travesty though she could not let go. “Good idea except for a few problems. One there is not enough gas to have the trucks run house to house. Two the truck is too big to get to some of the areas. Three there is not enough ice and water to go around for everyone.” Fresh off his half day at Anthony‟s Key, Julio was lending a helping hand now. “Let‟s take into account the amount of gas people used to get here and wait in line. You could do drop at the end of the road for rural communities. Three that‟s ridiculous, that the government can not come up with enough food and water for it‟s own residents.” Having never had to stand in a line longer than a ride at Disney World, Ceilo could not relate to those sweating their asses off down below. Having never lived on an island before, she could not begin to understand the politics involved. “And you thought I was an idealist Peter?” Trying not to laugh Philippe continued to hammer down a temporary fix on the state building roof. “It‟s the government‟s responsibility to help provide necessities in the event of an emergency. Not to provide them all. People should have planned better.” This was constantly the debate after hurricanes or other natural disasters. It was made famous in the United States after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast. “How do you plan to have your house and all your possessions ripped up and destroyed?” It was obvious from her response what side Ceilo was on. “The age old question arises once again. Is it the government‟s responsibility to provide for us when mother nature breaks our back?” Several of the bystanders both on the roof and down on the ground mumbled and complained at the question. “Of course why else do you pay taxes?” Standing up now Ceilo was ready for a strong debate to ensue. “I disagree.” No one else was stepping forward and it looked as though her challenge would be left in the wind, until Philippe piped in. “We live a democracy here. Well sort of at least.” Before anyone could ask him why he disagreed, Philippe continued. Several people laughed at his statement. “As a democracy government should only be held responsible for certain state run organizations and utilities. Why should I expect Roatan to pay me for damage done to my house by an act of nature? Why should I expect Roatan to feed or house me because a big wave pushed my house two hundred yards up the beach? Why should I expect the United States government to save me because my town got flooded and my house got destroyed? I am tired of listening to people complain about how slow the FEMA response was to Katrina. Truth be told people should have planned better.” As his tirade continued the crowd below grew silent listening to him. “I know what everyone is going to say. The poor had no other place to go. To that end, I asked the following question. How many of the Indian tribes in Indonesia are complaining to their government about its slow response to the tsunamis?” There was no response to this question. “For that matter how many of Gujara are standing in this line?” Looking down there he saw not a single one of the local tribe in the queue. “These are some of if not the poorest people in all the world. Why are they not complaining about the government‟s response to their disaster needs?” Finally a voice rang up from the crowd. “Because they are ignorant and don‟t know any better.” He could not see the person who said this, but Philippe kind of expected it. “So that answers my question then. You expect that the government is responsible to take care of you. Well as I said earlier. I disagree. I think we are responsible to take care of ourselves and governments are responsible to take care of themselves. That is why so many of you have homeowners insurance.” Most of his friends were quite shocked to hear Philippe say these words. After all in the event of an emergency he was the first to jump up to help others. “Well I don‟t know how it works here, but in America we pay taxes to FEMA to take care of us.” The source of the original voice came apparent. A rather large boisterous man stepped out of the crowd challenging Philippe. “Really is that what you think?” Laying down his hammer and in two quick bounds landing on the ground next to the man, Philippe was ready for a discussion. “Not what I think Frenchy. That‟s the way it is.” Not all intimidated by his physique or verbal mannerisms the much larger man stepped forward. “I think it might greatly surprise you that FEMA was originally designed to have absolutely nothing to do with the common man. They were designed reestablish infrastructure and communication and nothing more. It was not until internal audits of over budgeting bastardized the system that they started providing aid to individuals at all. Originally only organizations like the Red Cross provided contributions to the common man.” Several of the people were talking amongst themselves. His words were being translated into at least five languages. “I don‟t know where you get your information from..,” Looking angry now that a foreigner might know more than he did about his own country the man stepped to within a foot or two of the Haitian. “FEMA.US.GOV. It‟s run by the government. It‟s an interesting read. The best part is that nowhere in the FEMA laws and operating procedures does it ever say. WE ARE HERE TO SAVE YOUR ASS IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY.” Even those who disagreed with what he was saying could not help but laugh at what he had to say. All those except his new friend. “Maybe you should shut your mouth until you lose your house someday to a storm. Maybe then you will understand.” Inches from his face now, several of Philippe‟s friends jumped down off the roof. “I lost my house three times in hurricanes. Twice I had to rebuild in from the broken pieces. Oh and before you say it, I was as poor as poor can be the first time. Not once did I badmouth the government, or cry that they were not helping me enough. Not once did I try to place the blame on another. We chose to live on a tropical island people. With all the incredible advantages it presents certain innate disadvantages as well. I do not have a bad word to say about a single person waiting in line to get food and water. Several times I have stood in those very same lines. I have only to ask this question once again. If you live in a democracy then why do we expect the government to bail us out when a hurricane comes through?” Backing off two steps from the sweating American, Philippe was prepared to leave this alone right here. “These backward little islands have no clue how to provide for their people. Even the partially educated can‟t seem to grasp a simple concept like democracy. Going around spouting it out like they have a clue. Discussing FEMA websites like this makes them the official spokesperson of America. You wouldn‟t know democracy if it came up and bit you on the ass.” So angry now he was spitting the man rolled up his shirt, and took two steps forward to Philippe‟s two steps back. Still the Haitian made no attempt to engage him, and would have let the conversation end here. Only he made one final mistake. Sticking on his index finger he poked Philippe three times in the chest. “I‟ll give you one warning about touching me and after that..,” The man continued to push at his chest and was laughing at his warning. Kevin could not get to him quick enough. In less than the time it takes one to dial a telephone the big behemoth was face down in the sand with his index finger sticking out at an unnatural angle. His screams of pain reminded many of a small child who just falls down and goes boom. ”I tried to warn him.” Normally the police would have carted him off to a jail, and charged him with assault. However, no one wanted to pull Philippe away from his repair work. Plus given the description of the three hundred witnesses, he was not in the wrong with his actions. “El Blanco Haitiano strikes again. Listen here my friend. You have been good for so long. I know your father‟s health problems have to be weighing hard on you, but that was a tourist whose finger you nearly snapped off. Tourist dollars are all that keeps this place alive. Do you want me to be unemployed and my children to starve?” The chief of police was a very good friend of the governor and subsequently knew Philippe, but he was not about to give him preferential treatment because of this. In fact if it were one of the other boys he might have hauled them away down town. “I was merely defending myself. Governor Alvarez‟s health has nothing to do with it.” Holding his tongue as best he could, Philippe took several deep breaths. “Get back to work and stay away from big dumb animals okay. Comprende.” Tapping him on the shoulder, he pushed the young man gently back towards the ladder. “You didn‟t have to break his finger like that you know.” Ceilo had heard all the stories about his temper and unnatural physical strength it was somehow strange to her though to see them in action. What surprised her more was how incredibly calm he looked throughout the entire ordeal. Not once did his blood appear to get above tepid. “True but it was tamer than some of the other things I could have broken.” With a smile and wink, he went right back to working. “Do you really believe what you were saying to all these people?” Walking up the ladder and having a seat next to him on the gutter, Ceilo really wanted an answer to this now. “Yes I feel people should help themselves or chose to help others. They should never ever rely on a government or aid program to keep them alive.” Speaking from the experience of being poor at one time, Philippe felt no guilt about what he said. Welfare and other programs designed to help these less fortunate in his estimation had failed to accomplish its intended purpose. This was due mostly to its abuse by the less scrupulous. “There are people who are physically, mentally, or financially unable to help themselves Philippe.” For such a sweet and generous person it seemed strange to hear him saying these words. “I agree. That is why certain government organizations should exist at all. Look down at that line though Ceilo and tell me the God‟s honest truth. How many of them do you honestly believe could not have better prepared themselves and therefore eliminating most of their need to be here?” Knowing at least two or three dozen of the people in line, Philippe had this answer already. “I can‟t tell you by looking at them.” Never one to judge a person by how they dressed or talked, Ceilo whispered to him. “Good woman. I know for certain that most of them were unprepared and no matter how much advanced notice they had, they would be in the same position. Help yourself my dear Ceilo. Help yourself and rely on only yourself whenever possible.” With a kiss he went back to banging nails in the roof. “What about the truck you drove out here today is yours? The house you stayed at during the storm? What would you do if others hadn‟t helped you out?” Not trying to be mean, but more trying to point out the obvious, Ceilo was determined for him to see this particular dilemma from her point of view. “The Alvarez Family has helped me out in thousands of inexplicable ways. I am forever indebted to them. Having said that, I would have borrowed a truck from one of the people whose house I fixed and charged them a lesser rate. I would have stayed at the hospital and serviced their generator for free. There is always a way for those who have the will.” Her words did not offend or annoy him in anyway. He was prepared for something similar. People assumed because of his current associations that he was either spoiled or just unappreciative. Philippe Lacroix was neither. He worked hard for everything he got, and thanked everyone for every ounce of charity they afforded him. “Not everyone is like you Philippe. Not everyone can scale small buildings in a single bound while writing a best selling platinum single and saving a baby dolphin from the jaws of a tiger shark. You are unique.” Taking hold of his hands for a second she stopped him from working so he could grasp what she was saying. “I have news for you sweet Ceilo. Almost everyone on this planet can do exactly what I can and more. The problem is they just don‟t chose to. They chose to play video games or sit on their ass in front of a television or just goof off. That is the reality of life.” Kissing her twice on the forehead he returned to the job at hand. “You really believe that don‟t you?” Starting to move towards the ladder she could not understand if he was joking or not. “It‟s true.” Hammering several more nails in, he continued to work away. “No sweetheart it‟s not. If I practiced a million hours on a guitar I could never be as good as you. If that woman worked on houses for ten thousand years she could never do this. If my father spent the last thirty years of his life in the ocean and did nothing else he would never be as adept as you are. Perhaps you don‟t realize it my boy but you are incredibly gifted.” Part of what she said was meant to be a joke, but from the look she received in return, Ceilo got the impression that what she was saying was all new to him. Could it be that someone so multitalented and diverse did not realize how lucky or special he really was? “It‟s all a matter of hard work.” Trying to defend his premise, Philippe began to do an introspective and he was not happy with the face in his mirror. Were all his talents simply born onto him? “How long did it take for you to learn to play guitar? How much time do you spend practicing it? Personally other than at events I have never seen you pick it up.” Thinking that maybe by sticking to a single talent she might get further she concentrated on music. “I don‟t remember. I picked up a book of chords sat down for a days in a row and just learned. Process of elimination. I said this sounds right and this doesn‟t. The rest of the time I play songs the same way. If it sounds right I play, if not I change it. As far as practice is concerned, who needs to practice when you play four nights a week for two or three hours at a time. It‟s all the practice anyone would need.” Her head was shaking the entire time he spoke letting him know that he was not convincing her of his premise. “Most normal people can not do that Philippe. No matter how hard they work.” As he slammed in the last nail for the day, Philippe paused for a moment and looked at her. “I don‟t know what to say to that. Thank you?” Taking her hand, he led her down the ladder and then followed her down. “Face it my friend you‟re a freak of nature. I very nice hard working one, but a freak none the less.” Not realizing that anyone was listening, he was surprised to hear Julio say this as he packed up his equipment. “The girl has you pegged buddy. You assume that everyone around you can do what you can if they work really hard, and the truth is, they can‟t.” Patting him on the shoulder Kevin walked past him to his motor scooter. “I know I sure as hell can‟t” “Ditto man. My father made me take piano lessons for ten years. I still can‟t play anything but chopsticks.” “Have you ever seen me hit a golf ball?” Each one of the team members echoed her sentiment causing Philippe to blush slightly and hold up his hand. “Okay you proved your point already people.” Picking up Ceilo and carrying her like a child towards the truck, several of his friends hollered towards him. “Helping one‟s self is not as easy as you think. I am sorry if it took all that to tell you what I was trying to say.” Laying her head on his shoulder, Ceilo smiled. “I got the point. However, I still think people rely too much on the government to bail them out when they get in trouble.” His opinion on this had not changed. “Fair enough.” Most of the line had dwindled down to just a few stragglers. They were disappointed to find out that all the ice was gone, and they were left liter bottles of water instead of gallons. “Can you imagine how frustrating that must be to wait in line all day only to find nothing when you get there?” Speaking more to herself than out loud, she had planned on letting this conversation go, only now to restart it. “Imagine doing that for food everyday for a year. Imagine half the days you get it and the other half you don‟t.” In the months following his father‟s death, this was exactly what the young Philippe Lacroix was forced to do. Standing in the blinding heat of Port Au Prince with the stench of the destitute and dying people all around him. To this day the very thought of it made him cringe. “I can‟t.” Squeezing her head into his shoulder, Ceilo prayed silently to God. “Thank you for everything you have given me. Sometimes I might complain, but truthfully I am a lucky person.” Chapter 30: Ceilo‟s Key Most of Roatan began to take shape again in the following weeks. The governor was back on his feet though constantly hounded by his wife to take medicine. Christian was using a walker to get around instead of his wheel chair. The island itself except for the trash built up on the side of road looked much like it did the day before Wilma came through. All was almost back to normal in paradise. The final days leading up to Ceilo‟s party were mixtures of hard work, and bad health. Two or three times it appeared she might have to be hospitalized again. Even the day before it seemed she might not be able to attend her own fair well gathering. “Nonsense I wouldn‟t miss it for the world.” It was the same answer every time. Nearly thirty pounds lighter than we she arrived on the island, Ceilo had wasted away to a mere shell of her former self. Her spirits though were light and jolly as ever. Philippe had continued to keep a smile whenever around her though watching her decline was silently ripping him apart inside. Each day he recalled the words of her video, both those directed to him and the masses. They kept him strong enough for the both of them. “Okay so I need to get her there by seven o‟clock.” On the phone with Maya for the hundredth time, Philippe was still nervous he might muck up the plans. “Yep that‟s your only chore. Everything else is completely arranged.” Still treating this like a celebration, Maya had not allowed herself to take in the full meaning of it all. “I am going over there in an hour to doll up the bell of the ball. You just need to drive her here.” Both of the dresses she had given to Ceilo came back with a sad note saying; Still too big ;o( Finally realizing it was fruitless to continue, she had a dressmaker go to her room and take the measurements. The result was a stunning black silk Halston like dress that would stop time when properly worn. Running up the stairs now, she was giddy with excitement to see the final product. Only when she arrived at the room, she found Ceilo sitting on the edge of her bed in a daze. “It‟s time to get ready honey.” Helping her up, she walked her into the bathroom. As her sweat pants and shirt fell off onto the ground, Maya put her hands up to her face. This was not the same girl she had met two months before. Taking on the appearance of an Auschwitz survivor, Ceilo could not have looked more sickly. “I look like a monster” Seeing Maya‟s face in the mirror, it took all of her resolve not to start crying like a baby. “You look different honey that‟s all. Give me an hour though and you will be radiant. I guarandamntee it.” Her promise did not go unfulfilled though it took more like two hours to get her there. However, when Maya was done Ceilo looked like an angel. “I‟m too skinny to pull this off?” Her dress hung differently already than it did the week before, and she was getting more and more depressed. “Bullshit. Think Kate Freaking Moss honey. Waif is still in on the runway even if Vogue keeps trying to tell you differently.” Honestly she looked just as Maya described her, like a run way model. The dress covered enough of her ribs and hips to hide any proof of her disease, and the make up dressed her face up like a porcelain doll. A knock at the door brought the two of them to their feet. “The moment of truth is at hand.” Opening the door, Maya started crying just from the look on Philippe‟s face. “My God you are stunning. I am embarrassed just to be standing next to you.” It had been a while, since he could say these words honestly. Tonight though he was once again, mesmerized with her beauty. “You mean it.” Trying to bounce like a ten year old, she grabbed her purse and burst out a patented smile. “Positively.” For the only the third time in his life, Philippe was wearing a tuxedo. Everything about it was uncomfortable from the pointless cummerbund to the blood stopping bow tie. Truthfully though with his hair combed and his shoes shined he looked handsome in the way of a movie star. Even his five o‟clock shadow had been shaved away. He could almost pass for a gentleman as the saying went. The choice of venues had bounced back and forth as the number of guests moved back and forth. When the final tally came back the list was down to one. “Anthony‟s Key? What about the guests?” As they pulled the Lincoln into the parking lot, Ceilo gasped. “We‟re not actually going to Anthony‟s. We‟re going to its sister Sandy Isle. For today it is Ceilo‟s Key.” It had been the first time since the hurricane that Ceilo had been back to the Key, and it looked splendid to her. Nothing except a tree or two seemed the slightest bit out of shape. Her heart went a flutter when she saw the number of cars in the parking lot, there were at least two dozen vehicles there. “Wait until you see what they have done.” Barely able to contain his excitement Philippe pulled her right up to the ferry dock. The boat was waiting there for them. As soon as the stepped onto Sandy Key the smell of lemon grass wafted to them in the air. What was normally an intricate garden of Halaconia and Orchids, had been transformed almost silently into an outdoor Tiki Bar paradise. Draped over mahogany sign for Carambola Gardens was a red silken banner which simply said. “Until We Meet Again Party for Ceilo”. As she turned a corner of Cashew and Guava trees she came face to face with at least fifty people. Dressed in decadent black tie attire, everyone looked the part for a two hundred dollar a plate fundraiser. If she did not see the faces of at least a dozen scuba instructors and bartenders she would have thought herself in Turin or Rome. Every table was fashioned from hand carved Honduran mahogany with one of the rare potted flowers in the center. A combination Asian/Caribbean motive was prevalent throughout right down to the Chinese lanterns and Conch shell lined path. “For she‟s a golly good lady. For she‟s a jolly good lady. For she‟s a jolly good lady. Which nobody can deny.” Christian started the chorus from the head table, and everyone else chimed in. There was not a dry eye in the place when they hugged. It would be the first of dozen magical moments in the evening. “This is too much.” Nearly jumping into Philippe‟s arms, Ceilo was totally overwhelmed by it all. Her parents were seated with the Portensio at the head table. He kept them entertained with his tales of wine, women, and song. By the time the first course was served it was apparent this was going to be a memorable night. Alcohol flowed like water and the menu left everyone craving for more. From the freshly prepared conch salad to the breathtaking cerviche no one left empty bellied. Philippe‟s back up band was strumming a gentle mix or Latin rhythms and reggae. A threat of rain had passed, and the nearly full moon was struggling to through both the clouds and the canopy of trees. No candles were allowed in the botanical preserve so they brought in a series of Christmas lights hooked into a portable generator. Everything down to the napkins were specifically designed for the occasion. It was simply breathtaking. Kevin and Christian continuously clinked there glasses as if they were at a wedding. Without hesitating in the least, Ceilo kissed Philippe over and over again. “A toast to the lady of the hour.” Not allowed to drink, Juan was struggling to keep the rest of his inebriated family in check. Holding up his glass of club soda, he instantly had all fifty of the guests on their feet. “Ceilo Adriana Bella you have become a part of Roatan and her people as evidenced by the turn out here today. In doing so you have also become a part of our family. We love you like our own, and will miss you.” Choked up for a second he regained his composure and finished his thoughts. “Tonight though we drink to your life and not your departure. May your name and your spirit be celebrated for generations to come. May all that are here today remember you fondly. I know that I certainly will. Salut!” Although there was a tear or two shed amongst them, most of the people were indeed celebrating. They were instructed to treat this like a birthday or a Christmas party. Smiles would be in order at all times. “Here Here!” After dinner the real fun began. Dessert and dancing transformed into a scary but enjoyable form of karaoke. Italian traditional songs melded with island folk tunes to form an eclectic mix of craziness that most of them had never seen. The guest of the hour struggled to keep up both her spirits and her body. The latter began to fail as the midnight hour approached. Still Ceilo willed herself to stay despite the protests of several friends and family. “I will not leave my own Goodbye party until I am the last guest.” Her statement generated two effects. One each of the people was carefully and quietly asked to depart. Two it highlighted the natural beauty of their surroundings. As everyone left and the lights were extinguished they could truly appreciate the beauty of this island. “Come with me young lady, we have one final mountain to climb.” Philippe pulled her away from the waning crowd. Gently removing her shoes, he piggy backed her deep down one of the mountain trails. Stopping in from of a huge strand of banyan trees he sat her down on what looked like a tree swing. “Okay now, I need you to hold on tight.” Sitting down next to her, Phillip pulled down on a rope, and they began lifting up into the air. Higher and higher they ascended into the canopy of trees until they were totally immersed in leaves. Still higher they rose until they peaked out above the tallest of the trees. Ceilo gasped at the view before her. “Oh I have never seen anything like it.” Looking down towards the ocean, she had a fantastic view of Anthony‟s Key. Holding up a flashlight Philippe signaled to someone down at the Key. They flashed him back to let him know they got the signal. Then a small light began building. Dozens and dozens of strands of white Christmas lights were illuminated. It took moment or two for Ceilo to make out the shape they created. When she finally did, she nearly fell backwards off the swing. They were fashioned in the form of a dolphin, and written around the outside were the words. “I LOVE CEILO” There was nothing more to say. There was nothing more to do. Ceilo‟s life was complete. Taking deep breaths Philippe tried to stamp out the fear deep in his chest, but it would not go away. “I could not be happier if I were twins.” Her favorite expression was restated turning Philippe from a nervous wreck into a chuckling one. “It might sound like a cliché but I will say it anyway.” Looking towards the myriad of stars and the blue cheese moon, Ceilo sighed. “I wish we had more time.” Her words echoed in the darkness when something small and scaly scurried past her legs. “Iguanas. They won‟t hurt you.” One of them grabbed onto Philippe‟s foot and hung there by one arm causing both of them to laugh hysterically. “They wish you had more time too.” Quietly sneaking their way back down to the ground they were surrounded again, this time by dozens of rabbit like agouti. Hoping in and around their feet, Philippe just shook his head. “Looks like everyone is coming around to say goodbye.” Sure enough a small flock of Honduran parrot on their way back to their nesting site buzzed happily by them as well. “All we need now is dolphin squeaking away and I will feel thoroughly sent off.” As they slid back towards the ferry Ceilo gently kissed the back of his neck. Standing by the dock was Maya who had been strangely absent during most of the night. “The dolphin was a nice touch.” Kissing both of them almost simultaneously she held up her hands as if to ask an unnecessary question. “It was SPECTACULAR!” Even in her weakened condition Ceilo managed to get out a scream that rattled the forest sending birds flying in all directions. “I know.” Pinching her cheek, Maya skipped down to the dock leaving them strangely alone. Turning in circles they expected to at least see her parents but no one was there. “Where have all the people gone?” When they left at least twenty people we‟re there, and now they were alone. “I don‟t know but it is quite romantic.” Taking her in his arms he began to dance slowly to tune that no one else could hear. Then he sang softly in her ear. The tune was one she could not recognize, but it didn‟t matter. Just the feel of his breath and closeness of his body had her tingling all over. Even as the staff came back and began to dismantle the tables and lights, the couple continued to shuffle back and forth too and fro. Her fatigue and pain from earlier had miraculously disappeared. It was past two o‟clock and neither of them seemed to notice. Hour after hour, song after song Philippe serenaded and danced her until dawn. “I think we might have missed the last ferry back to the dock.” Finally breaking the embrace, it was Ceilo who walked down to the water‟s edge. “Nothing to worry about. I had a back up plan.” Moving a number of branches of mangrove, Philippe exposed a large plastic kayak. “This dress just won‟t due.” Pulling over the lovely frock Ceilo exposed her brand new bra and panties without shame. “Lets paddle.” Drawing them down into the water, Philippe paddled slowly across the half mile stretch of water towards the land. Never had he seen the ocean so calm, there was not a breath of wind to be found. Watching the dolphin facility from a far, he spotted Teri down by the water. Waving several times he finally got her attention, and as if sensing what Philippe had in mind, Teri had the dolphins put on an aerial display. “Now my goodbye is complete.” Chapter 31: Dolphin Smolphin. I learned to love. While most of the world was preparing for Christmas, and the hotels of Roatan were once again filled capacity, Ceilo was slowly fading away. Constantly taking morphine now, she was barely coherent for more than an hour or two a day. Philippe had completed all the repair projects his body could handle, and he had settled in by Ceilo‟s side. Guitar in hand he spent countless hours playing music and serenading her. On occasion on of his friends or family members would drag him out for a beer and some fresh air, but the rest of the time he was attached to her side. “It won‟t be long.” They were the words no one wanted to hear, but everyone knew were coming. One of the oncologists from Tegulacalpa flew over after a visit from the governor. “So that‟s it then.” Phillipe nodded. “It‟s strange though…” The doctor mused. “What do you mean?” “Her white count is higher than it has been in six months. Honestly if I didn‟t know better, I would say she was getting healthier. Only her body seems to have given up. It‟s almost like she‟s fought as hard as she could…” The doctor stopped speaking when he saw the pain on Phillipe‟s face. “Thank you for you time.” Shaking his hand, Philippe looked at her parents and shrugged his shoulders. There was nothing more to do. It was now the early morning hours of Christmas Eve 2005. Startled by her latest dream Ceilo came to with a start. “Wow that was weird.” Lying next to her was Philippe. Her parents had given up on explaining how inappropriate this arrangement was. For all intensive purposes their daughter was married to this man. “What‟s that?” Normally not awake before noon, he was surprised to see her stirring with the sunrise. “My dream was different.” Closing her eyes again, she tried to recall the final images. There were no dolphins or sharks this time just her and Philippe swimming in the ocean. For what seemed like hours they swam and swam across a massive reef. Fish or all shapes and colors darted amongst them like they were the coral itself. It was the first time in months that she was no longer afraid. Even when the sun went down, they continued their snorkel. Manta Rays gathered in their lights. Moray Eels and large jellyfish slid by their bodies in perfect unison. It was completely peaceful. Further and further they moved away from the land only the ocean never grew deeper and she never got cold. Finally they seemed to reach the end of the world as though it were flat. The ocean simply just stopped and outer space began. Taking her hand Philippe kissed it and waved goodbye. Stepping out of the water she glided off into the heavens alone. Much like the first half of the journey she swam for hours across the heavens past planets and stars. When she came to the end this time, it was a bright white room. The only distinguishing feature was a black rubber mat on the floor with the word welcome written on it. “That sounds wonderful to me.” More than anything Philippe wanted to know that she would be happy wherever she ended up. Not quite sure what to think of traditional visions of heaven, he just held hope above all she was safe. “I‟m not scared you know. Just in case you were. Everything is going to be fine.” Her words and thoughts seemed incredibly lucid. It was strange to have her talking like the Ceilo of old. “Can you get my parents for me?” Sitting up against her pillows, she waited for them to come in, and then waved to him as he stepped out. “It‟s time.” Her mother cried while her father smiled, and then they traded places. It was emotional in its finality, but it was quite expected. “Take me out dear sir. I need to see good bye to the Tan.” Barely eight pounds now, all traces of the former Ceilo Bella had been vanquished by her cancerous blood. Starting by the coast, they circumnavigated the entire island. There final stop was to be Philippe‟s house. As they drove past Villa Del Sol, Ceilo pointed. “That is where I first met you.” As if he had forgotten, she pointed to the exact spot. “Wow your house looks great.” In between projects, a now well funded Philippe Lacroix had finished rehabbing and redesigning his home. The result was a splendid raised villa by the sea. Gathered on what was left of his grassy front yard were dozens of his old friends. Only today it was Ceilo who fed them. His hammock was now on the lawn as his beach was completely wiped clean from the planet. “Good bye sun.” Her final farewell came and went with the sunset. Reaching into her pocketbook she withdrew a small present wrapped in colorful paper. “Christmas gift.” Handing to him proudly, she waited for his response. “Wait one minute.” Running out to the truck he pulled a package out from under the seat and returned to her side. “What am I going to do with a gift?” Laughing in spite of the moment, she ripped at the paper. Inside she found the most exquisite batik sundress. There was a card next to it. “With all my love today and forever Philippe.” “It‟s beautiful.” Stripping off her sweat clothes she tried it on. “Make sure I wear it forever will you.” Not wanting to be graphic Ceilo hoped her understood what she meant. “There‟s a little something else in there.” Pointing the box he watched as she fumbled around and came out with a ring. “Oh my. Oh my.” There was no mistaking what the ring was intended for. Even before he asked the words she knew it. “What are you crying for?” Looking quite sad now, she puffed out her bottom lip. “I only got you a dolphin pendant.” They laughed at the irony and disparity in their gifts. “Be mine forever Ceilo Francesca Bella. I asked your father and he says it‟s okay. We don‟t need to do a ceremony or anything. Just say yes and the world will be complete.” There was no hesitation in her response. “Forever Yes.” As he placed the ring on her finger, she grew dizzy. Seconds later she fell soundly to the ground. It was too late for hospitals, Philippe took her back to Mayas. By eight o‟clock her moment of clarity had past, and she was slipping quickly. One by one the people of Roatan that knew Ceilo stopped by to say their farewells. By nine p.m. she called Philippe into the room. “I‟ve swum through the ocean and gliding across the heavens. All that‟s left is to wipe my feet on the welcome mat.” No one but Philippe could have understood her at this point in time her words were far too random. “Then I kiss you goodbye and let you get to it.” Promising himself he would not cry in her presence, Philippe struggled to get the words out. “I lived my dreams baby. I did it.” Her eyes growing glassier and further away she continued to talk. “Yes you swam with the dolphins.” A single tear escaped his left eye despite his best efforts. “Dolphin smolphin. I learned to love.” Two hours before Christmas, Ceilo Francesca Bella stepped into the big white room. While Philippe watched the video for the hundredth time, people came in one by one to say there goodbyes. As each approached, they watched their goodbye message. Not a dry eyed person entered or left. Sitting next to her bed, Philippe picked up a guitar and played. His words were haunting. They were warm. It wasn‟t his song, but it seemed appropriate. I drink good coffee every morning Comes from a place that's far away And when I'm done I feel like talking Without you here there is less to say I don't want you thinking I'm unhappy What is closer to the truth That if I lived till I was 102 I just don't think I'll ever get over you I'm no longer moved to drink strong whisky 'Cause I shook the hand of time and I knew That if I lived till I could no longer climb my stairs I just don't think I'll ever get over you Your face it dances and it haunts me Your laughter's still ringing in my ears I still find pieces of your presence here Even after all these years But I don't want you thinking I don't get asked to dinner 'Cause I'm here to say that I sometimes do Even though I may soon feel the touch of love I just don't think I'll ever get over you If I lived till I was 102 I just don't think I'll ever get over you Chapter 31: To Dream It amazed Ceilo how much heaven looked like her room at Maya‟s house. She even felt as if she were in her own bed. With a lazy yawn and a stretch she stood up and walked towards the bathroom. This was her room in Maya‟s house. God must have wanted her to feel comfortable. Brushing her hair and her teeth she looked at her body in the mirror. It was still totally emaciated. “At least the pain is gone.” She thought as attempted to clean up her face. The pain was really the only thing about her life that she wouldn‟t miss. The rest of it had been so wonderful. Especially those last few months with Phillipe. They were the most incredible of all. Poor Phillipe and her parents, they must have been devastated. She hoped there wasn‟t a funeral. That was why she wanted the Deathday in the first place, was so everyone could say goodbye while she was still alive. “Ouch.” A stabbing pain formed in her side. It only lasted a second or two, but it was there. “There isn‟t supposed to be pain in heaven.” Ceilo grew slightly concerned. What was going on here? She was in Maya‟s house, there was still some pain. It was mostly gone, but … Her fingers gently poked at her abdomen. Although the agony of her attacks in the weeks leading up to her death was gone, there was still some tenderness. “I never expected to feel…” “Ceilo baby where are you!” Panic began to set in. That voice, she knew that voice. Was he dead too? Oh my God, no this couldn‟t be happening. Her whole body shook, and Ceilo was ready to scream when Phillipe stepped through the bathroom doorway. “You‟re up. I can‟t believe you‟re up. The doctor‟s weren‟t sure… This is magnificent.” Phillipe ran to the phone and made two calls. The excitement in his voice was overwhelming. “I don‟t understand.” Ceilo whined as he slid up behind her in the bathroom. “What do you mean?” His arms wrapped around her sides, and he squeezed her. It was gentle enough not to cause pain but forceful enough to say hi I‟m here. “I died.” Ceilo announced. “No you didn‟t.” His eyes opened wide, and Phillipe had the strangest look on his face. He was more confused then she was. “The doctors… I died Phillipe. My time was up. Everyone said so…” “You didn‟t die Ceilo. The medicine… the dolphin juice that the priest gave you, it killed the disease. You‟ve been asleep since a week before Christmas. Remember when you passed out after your party?” The terror of confusion in her eyes told him all he needed to know. “Ceilo… Phillippe where are you?” Maya called out her voice filled with panic. “We‟re in here.” He called back. “She‟s awake.” Maya looked in the bathroom to see the two of them staring in the mirror. “She thinks she‟s dead.” He spoke cautiously. “Dead? Oh my, that would be bizarre wouldn‟t it. You die, go to heaven, and it ends up being my house. Weird set of circumstances I would imagine.” Maya joked. “Have you called the doctor yet…” “She‟s on her way.” Phillipe said and hugged Ceilo a bit tighter to his chest. “And her parents…” “On their way as well.” “Mama? Papa?” Ceilo nearly tumbled as the reality of the moment finally hit her. “I‟m alive?” Her voice cracked. “Yes baby you‟re alive. “ Philippe caught her as she fell towards the ground. Lying on the cold tile floor, he wrapped his body around her tightly. “My cancer is gone?” She was shaking uncontrollably. “Yes … your cancer is gone. You‟re alive. You‟re family is here. I‟m here.” Maya slid out of the room to give them more privacy. Her eyes peered down at the ring on her left hand, and it nearly made her heart stop. Phillipe had asked her to marry him. They were engaged. This was real. She was alive! It hit her all at one time. Leaping to her feet she danced around the bathroom. She through open the door, and went charging into the bedroom. Hopping around like bunny rabbit he needed to tinkle, she spun several small circles, and then nearly collapsed. It had been so long since she had any activity, this was too much. Phillipe caught her again, and laid her down on top of the covers. “You love me. You‟ll stay with me forever and ever.” She was giggling and rolling around in the warm bed. “Yes.” “Would you marry me today, and have lots of little babies with me?” She shrieked. “As many as you want.” “Say it to me?” “I love you, will marry you, have tons of children, and stay with your forever Ceilo. You are everything to me.” “My dream is complete.” Her eyes closed tightly. “Oh that dolphin again huh?” He joked with her. “Dolphin smolphin…” “You learned to love.” Phillippe finished her sentence this time and then kissed her. The warmth and passion of their embrace lit up the room. Ceilo was going to live. Their love would go on forever. THE END February 7, 2008 K.C.