Tapestry Of Time: Chapter 3
By Joan M. McCabe
A Serial release brought to you by KotaPress
All right reserved internationally, (c) 2003

October 1989

In the fall of 1989, Paul was in the midst of a staff meeting when he got a call from his Uncle Stephen in their San Francisco office. He looked around the table at his staff busily munching biscotti and sipping lattes freshly brought up from the Buzz espresso cart in the lobby. He turned to his new head architect, Michael and said, "Well, Mr. Takatsuka, I must leave the bridge to you. Starfleet Command is on the phone and I should take it in my office."

"Aye, aye, Captain," Michael said, saluting him. Paul and Michael had been avid Trekkies during their college years. After hiring him away from Marbanks’ competitor, they'd been using Star Trek lingo to refer to the company and its operation. Paul was drawn more and more into the administrative side and needing to leave the creative decisions up to Michael, his "Number One". Uncle Stephen's office naturally was Starfleet Command, since on the TV series Star Fleet was also headquartered in San Francisco.

"Carry on," said Paul to his crew, using his best Captain Jean Luc Picard voice.

"Paul, you have to come to San Francisco. I'm booked for a flight to India next week, and I've slipped a disc. You're the only one in the company who can substitute for me." Uncle Stephen's voice sounded convincingly urgent.

The "only person", yeah, right, thought Paul. More like the only convenient person in the company, since everyone in the San Francisco branch probably has tickets to the World Series. He wondered if his Uncle had really slipped a disc. He knew the company was making strides with their international connections; he hadn't realized India was one of their contacts.

"What's happening in India?" Paul asked, stalling an answer to his uncle's request.

"Chakawarti and Sons is building a development outside Delhi and we won the bid. Mr. Chakawarti was in the Bay area last month to discuss the project with me, and I agreed to fly to India to view the site and finalize the contract."

Last month. Before the A's won the Pennant, thought Paul. Paul heard office noises in the background while his uncle spoke. He slipped a disc and he's at work?

"And, Paul, they require a visa and shots to go to India. We’re working on getting your visa through the consulate here, and I took the liberty of calling your doctor up there about the shots. You have an appointment for noon today for the first series and next Monday for the second. That should give you plenty of time to catch the shuttle down here. You’re booked on Alaska Airlines leaving at 2:00 PM this coming Monday, the sixteenth. I trust your passport is up to date." His uncle could tell Paul was hesitating. "There'll be a big bonus in it for you," he added.

He had pushed all of Paul's buttons. Of course his passport was up to date. He'd gone with Maggie on their honeymoon to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. As he thought about Maggie a wave of guilt swept over him. She was short and had black curly hair. A doctor who, when her biological clock went off, switched her specialty to pediatrics. He’d met her in the Harborview hospital emergency room when he'd taken the boy he was Big Brother to had gotten hit over the eye with a baseball. She’d watched him interact with the kid, decided he was father material, and asked him out. She was so unlike Moira, that he decided it would be healthy to say yes. When she asked him to marry her a year later, he decided it would be healthy to say yes to that, too. Anything to force himself to accept reality.

Then followed five agonizing years of Maggie trying to get pregnant. A year and a half of sex by the calendar and temperature taking, followed by a horrendous period of hormone shots and in vitro fertilization. Poor Maggie, torn by pain and disappointment, the hormone shots making her completely wacko with continual PMS. Paul became more moody and withdrawn. Finally, as they each approached their fortieth birthdays, Paul decided to put them both out of their miseries. He gently explained to Maggie that she was a wonderful woman and deserved to have a child, but not with him. She deserved to have someone love her for the unique and wonderful things about her, and not be married to someone who chose her in the first place because she was the opposite of the woman he truly loved. (This did not go over well). She kicked him out of their Lake Washington house, kept the Pathfinder, got a restraining order, sold all his belongings and sued him for every dime he was worth. All he had left now that the divorce was finalizing was a ten-year-old Honda Prelude and the little house in Ballard that he'd kept as a rental. Not much to show for a forty-one year old man.

So of course, the bonus enticed him. And maybe a trip to India would be good experience in international relations, since Paul was beginning to lead the Seattle office in that direction himself.
"Yes, Uncle, I'll do it," Paul found himself saying into the phone. Seven days later he was on a southbound flight with an arm sore from inoculations and his passport in his side pocket.

The details were pretty simple; his uncle had worked them out the month before when Mr. Chakawarti had visited. But there were subtle points. It turned out that Mr. Chakawarti was a family man. Uncle Stephen had shrewdly guessed that he would respond more favorably to Marbanks' brilliant nephew and president of the Seattle branch replacing him than to someone lower down the ranks in the San Francisco office. His uncle had indeed slipped a disc but coped very well being wheelchaired around by a buxom redheaded nurse. Still, the old codger did have World Series tickets and was taking his nurse there the following afternoon, about the same time Paul would be flying off to India.

The next day Paul returned to the San Francisco International Airport. After checking in, he went straight to his gate. They were already boarding his flight, so Paul went directly on. The plane was full; people stuffed in like sardines. He was grateful that his uncle had reserved first class (although it was sold out there, too). Paul decided to immerse himself in the glossy airline magazine to see what movies he would watch during the flight.

Snatches of a conversation wafted up from the coach section behind him. "Do y'all mind if ah have this aisle seat? Ah need to stretch mah legs." A man said with a Texan drawl.

"No, that's fine with me," a woman's pleasant voice replied.

Paul froze. That voice -- he knew that voice! He tried to twist in his seat to see the speaker, but people putting baggage in overhead bins blocked his view.

It had to be her. It couldn't be her. Paul began to use the deep breathing techniques Sonya Morgenstein had taught him years ago in order to control panic attacks (which usually just came whenever he glimpsed blondes in crowds; this was the first time he'd hallucinated a voice). He stared down at his magazine. His eyes blurred and he couldn't focus on anything, but Paul just pretended to read while he breathed in - one - two - three, and out - one - two - three -four. In - one - two - three, out - one - two - three - four. Breathing wasn’t helping. A drink? They hadn't taken off yet; the flight attendants weren't going to serve anything when they were busy telling people how to buckle their seat belts. Paul’s stomach started to somersault. Airsickness pills! He had some extra-strength ones in the carry-on bag at his feet! Paul dived forward and rammed his head into the back of the seat in front of him as he reached into his bag.

The expiration date on the package was the year before, but he didn’t care. Paul swallowed the pills without water and just the thought of taking them relaxed him before the drug could kicked in. He dozed into thoughtless oblivion before the plane even left the US mainland.

He woke up just as they were landing in Hong Kong. The First Class flight attendant smiled at him cheerily. “Glad to see you’re awake. I was a little worried when you didn't wake up for lunch, or dinner!" she said as she made sure everyone’s seat backs were upright and tray tables closed. "You must have really needed the rest."

"Ah, yes, must have," said Paul, sitting up. It must have been a dream. He breathed a sigh of relief.
His stopover in Hong Kong was a little under two hours. He stayed in the transit passenger holding area, catching up on the paperwork he had intended to do on the plane. He was absorbed in the stats regarding the Chakawarti project when he heard a woman’s deep but melodious laugh. Paul’s head jerked up just in time to see a golden-haired woman disappearing, he thought, through the departure gate. He dropped the plans to the floor, papers scattering everywhere, and raced to the gate.

The agent at the gate stopped him. “I’m sorry sir, we’re not ready to begin boarding yet.”

Shaking, Paul returned to his bags and began picking up the papers he’d spilled. This could not be possible. Not on both planes. This was a completely different flight. He must be having some kind of mental breakdown.

Moments after he’d gotten the plans back into his briefcase, they began boarding his flight. He followed the stream of passengers like a zombie, and kept his head down as he got on the plane. He managed to find his seat and stow his baggage without having to look up once.

They began the meal service shortly after takeoff, which effectively diverted Paul’s thoughts about Moira. He hadn’t eaten since leaving San Francisco seventeen hours ago. For the first time in his life, airplane food tasted wonderful. His mood immediately improved when drinks were offered, and he settled in with a scotch to watch the movie without headphones. It was about some cantankerous old lady being driven around by a long-suffering chauffeur.

Halfway through Paul realized he had to piss like a bandit, and if he didn't get up soon --
"Oh, no sir, please remain seated until the seat belt sign goes off," the Flight Attendant said firmly. “We’re encountering turbulence, but should be through it shortly.”

Paul went back to watching the movie, gritting his teeth. In two eternities' times ten, the seat belt sign dinged and went off. Seven people immediately lined up in front of the first class toilets. Screw it, thought Paul, and he headed towards coach.

Fourteen miles of crying babies and legs sticking into the aisles, he finally reached the middle of the plane. All these toilets were occupied, too. He plowed onward; sweat beginning to stand out on his forehead. Did anybody just have a Coke bottle? Ah, he saw someone leave a stall at the back of the plane and he broke into a trot. From behind the corner a ten-year-old kid walked straight into it.
"You look like you’re in pain," an amused voice came from behind him.

He turned and there she was. He wasn't hallucinating. There was Moira standing in the aisle behind him. He suddenly didn't have to go anymore.

A door opened. "Quick, go in there before you explode!" chuckled Moira as she pushed him in there.
He had to deep breathe and relax before anything would happen. When he finally finished and came out there were about ten people in line. A rather unpleasant man glared at him and barely waited for him to get out of the toilet before pushing his way in. Moira was nowhere to be seen.

He must be hallucinating. Was this a psychotic episode?

"Barbecued chicken or beef cannelloni?" A flight attendant asked somewhere back in coach.

"I've special-requested vegetarian." Her voice wafted down the aisle.

The food and beverage carts blocked his way so Paul headed down the opposite aisle. He circled through the galley at the back of the plane and spied Moira sitting several rows up. Across the aisle from her he spied a miserable businessman sitting next to a woman holding a crying infant on her lap. Paul went up to him.

"You look like you could use a break," Paul said, affably. "Would you like to exchange seats with me?"

The man eyed him suspiciously. "Why, where are you sitting?"

"Seat 4B," Paul said, without saying why. "You can leave your dinner here. They're serving lobster tail with filet mignon and champagne up in First Class.”

The man broke out into a huge grin. "Well, sure, mister, you can have my seat. I don't care why you want to trade, just take it!" The guy pulled his bag out from under the seat in front of him headed up the aisle. "Enjoy the cannelloni!"

Paul took his place by the infant, now peacefully breast-feeding. He could retrieve his stuff later in the flight.

"Pretty swift negotiating."

He looked over to see Moira grinning at him.

"Hiya, handsome -- long time no see," she said playfully.

A surge of anger rose in Paul. You'd better believe it. It's been almost nine years. He wanted to shake her and kiss her at the same time. Instead, he simply said, "Hi, Moira. It has been a long time." He looked at her, trying to see if anything had changed. Little tiny laugh lines had formed around her eyes, but that was all.

"Nice beard," she said.

Paul frowned. He'd had this beard the last time he saw her. He'd deliberately kept it, even though Maggie had hated it. He hadn't understood why until now. He'd wanted to remain recognizable to her if he ever saw her again. Nine years had changed him a little, slight flecks of gray were forming at his temples, and his stomach wasn't as firm as it could be. He suddenly regretted losing his gym membership in the divorce.

"Going to India?" he asked, praying that she wasn't going to stay with the flight, which continued on to London.

She smiled, a broad, heart-warming smile. "Yes."

"Staying there long?" he asked, feeling his pulse beginning to race.

She paused. Then she said, "I'm transitioning assignments, so I'll have a little layover time in Delhi, yes." She continued grinning from ear to ear.

Paul struggled to recall his itinerary. "I'm there ... five days ... I think." He reached into his jacket pocket to find his ticket.

"I think I can manage five days," she said.

At midnight New Delhi time they landed at Palim Airport. As he disembarked, Paul felt a blast of warm air. The whole countryside was tinged in moonlight, and there was an eye-watering odor he couldn't identify.

"Cow dung patties, they burn it for fuel." Moira whispered behind him.

Paul walked down the steps into another world. Fortunately, they both only had carry-on luggage, so were among the first to arrive at immigration. Immigration officials wearing gray jackets over saris perfunctorily checked his passport and asked the basic questions.

"How long on you planning on staying in India, Mr. Marbanks?" A well rounded woman with pudgy fingers and dozens of silver bangle bracelets flipped though his passport.

"Five days." Paul tried gazing over at Moira talking with the next agent over.

"Ah-cha. Business, or pleasure?" Her bangles jingled as she stamped his passport.

"A little of both," said Paul, concealing his excitement.

"Welcome to India, Mr. Marbanks,” she handed his passport to him, “we hope you enjoy your stay. Namaste." The agent turned her attention to the next person in line.

Paul wandered out from the customs area to look for Moira amongst a sea of black-haired people. Voices yelling -- calling people, selling things, asking for alms -- it didn’t seem to matter that it was the middle of the night. Paul spotted a blond head sticking out of the crowd at the taxi stand near the entrance.

As he approached, he could see Moira chatting in Hindi with the little cab driver sporting a large, elegantly combed beard and an oversized turban. He looked like a dark version of Yosemite Sam. They seemed to reach some agreement, and he took her compact suitcase and put in the back of the black and yellow cab.

Moira looked up as if she'd known Paul was coming, and waved.

"Where are you staying?" she called over the crowd.

"I have no idea!" he called back, reaching for his itinerary again.

She chattered to the cabby and ended the sentence with "Ashoka Hotel."

They got in the cab and as it tore off into the stream of humans on bicycles and buses and cows, Paul glanced at his itinerary. He had a suite at the Ashoka.

"How did you know?" Paul asked, incredulous.

"Madame Zola knows all, sees all." Moira wiggled her eyebrows. She leaned back against the sticky vinyl seats and rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm so glad to see you again."

Paul looked out the window, as the countryside whizzed by. Water buffalo with enormously swollen stomachs lolled in murky gullies. Modern apartment buildings stood alongside little mud huts.

Suddenly he was in a different world with the woman he loved more than the entire world next to him. The one who had abandoned him - twice - without a word, or a trace. Yet here she sat beside him as if she had just seen him a week ago. He closed his eyes. The cabdriver put on the radio and a high-pitched nasal wailing assaulted his ears. He turned to Moira and opened his mouth to speak. ‘Why? Why did you leave me? Where the hell have you been?’ he wanted to say. Instead, he found himself pressing his face into Moira's hair. She put her arms around him, and he started to feel the years drain away again. All his rage, all his depression, flowed out of him. How did she do that? How could she make the years evaporate and leave him feeling as if they'd been together always? There were too many things happening at once for him to process everything. All his confused feelings about Moira mixed up with all the overwhelming sensations of India. The heat made him sweat through his shirt and through his jacket. If it was this hot at night, what was it like when the sun was up? The odors were fascinating, or delicious, or revolting. The cab itself had a mixture of scents: hot, unwashed plastic, the remnants of previous passengers with bathing habits differing from Paul's, the delicate aroma of sandalwood - or was that a stick of incense on the dashboard? And the strong, spicy-sweet cologne that made Paul slightly queasy must be coming from the cab driver himself.
Along the way they passed a temple glowing in the light of street lamps swarming with insects. The cab raced by it at full speed, but the driver took his hands off the wheel, turned to the temple and bowed as he went by, then grabbed the wheel and kept driving.

"That was a Sikh temple - the religion Mr. Singh, our driver, belongs to. That's why he bowed.” Moira whispered into Paul's ear.

"I see. Pretty religious fellow," Paul said through gritted teeth, his white knuckled hands gripping the seat.

They arrived at the Ashoka, a magnificent red sandstone building surrounded by immaculate greenery. The monsoons had just passed through Delhi and all the vegetation seemed very lush and green in contrast to the ever-present yellow dust on everything else. The moment Paul and Moira got out of the cab, children, mostly barefoot young boys, mobbed them. What are they doing up so late at night?

"Baksheesh Mem-Sahib, Baksheesh Sahib!" the boys cried, waving their cupped hands in front of them.

"Watch your wallet," said Moira, gripping her purse, "No baksheesh, no baksheesh, chalo - jaldi!" She waved her hand at them dismissively.

Paul already had his hand on his wallet to pay the cab driver, but he felt little fingers reaching for it as well, he whirled around but was unable to identify who it was in the mass of boys.

The cab driver gave Paul a price for the cab fare, and Paul automatically started reaching for the rupees in his wallet. Moira spun around and started arguing with the cab driver in Hindi, hotly debating the price he quoted and finally leaning into the cab to prove that the meter was broken.

The cab driver went through a charade of emotions ranging from indignant, insulted, and angry finally to mournfully resigned. These tourists are bleeding me, his expression seemed to say. But with the smaller amount of rupees in his hand, he broke into a wide, brown stained toothy smile, clasped his hands prayer-like in front of him and made slight bows to Paul and to Moira. Before he got into his cab he shot Moira a smiling look, almost shaking his finger as if to say to her "ah, you are one savvy haggler, Mem-Sahib."

Paul turned back to Moira and found her standing protectively over their luggage, gesturing for a bellboy, who had been languidly observing the scene with an amused air. The front doorman appeared at that moment also, a short fellow in a fancy turban and elegant uniform with gold braid on the shoulders and sleeves, and a broad sash around his waist. He grandly motioned for the bellboy, who hopped to it when he saw his boss. Then the doorman opened the door and stood smartly at attention as Paul and Moira entered. Paul had the feeling that the doorman expected a tip for simply opening the door and getting the bellboy to do his job.

The interior of the Ashoka was a lavish mixture of marble, silk, and velvet, with magnificent oriental carpets adorning the floors. Behind the front desk were several women whose elegant red and gold saris swished about as they walked from one place to another. The woman who checked them in had a little diamond in her nose, and a bindi - a little red dot in her forehead. He thought of the immigration agent, who’d also had a bindi, except it was black.

“I think the red bindi is when you’re unmarried and the black one is when you’re married. I’m not sure,” Moira said to him as they walked towards the elevators.

Paul looked at her in surprise, "I thought you knew everything," he kidded.

"Not everything, Paul darling, just your thoughts." She squeezed his arm as they got into the elevator.

In the elevator up to their suite Paul became very aware of Moira standing beside him, her hand resting gently on his arm. He always had a tingling sensation standing beside her, as if she emitted some low-voltage electricity. He also noticed the bellboy, standing with his face intently staring at the floor numbers. He wished the elevator were empty save for him and Moira, and that it was stuck between floors.

They arrived at their floor and followed the bellboy down the lushly carpeted hallway to their suite. The boy unlocked their door with a flourish and wheeled the baggage cart into a sitting area with furniture made of beautifully carved wood inlaid with ivory. Large brass spittoons held giant palms on either side of the enormous picture window. Moira went over and looked out through the gauzy drapes at the view of Delhi - a mixture of high rise buildings and empirical British architecture as well as domes and spiral towers.

The bellboy made a great show of opening the double doors to reveal the bedroom area with the king-sized bed covered with a brightly colored, intricately embroidered bedspread inset with tiny mirrors. On top of the bed were assorted stuffed pillows embroidered with tassels and more mirrors. The bellboy opened a door off the bedroom to indicate the bathroom and then walked up to Paul with an ingratiating smile.

Paul glanced at Moira, who looked at him knowingly. The figure "ten rupees" popped into his head, so that's what he tipped him. The boy bowed with great ceremony while stuffing the money in his pocket, backed out the door and was gone.

They were alone. Paul glanced at his watch. It was now 3:45 AM, Delhi time. His meeting with Mr. Chakawarti was not until the following morning, his uncle having allotted a days’ rest to adjust to the jet lag. What now?

There were so many questions to ask, so many things he wanted to tell her, but he had a strong fear that this might be their only time together. Who knows? She could disappear if he fell asleep. So he walked over to her at the window and kissed her -- a kiss that erased the time they’d been apart, that evaporated the years of loneliness and resentment, replacing them with inner calmness and acceptance. It felt like all time stopped moving and the only thing that would ever exist was now. She slipped her arms around his waist.

He kissed her again inside the bedroom. She caressed his back, sending shivers up his spine. Her hands found their way inside his shirt and slid around to the front to feel the hair on his chest. Her fingernails lightly rasped against his nipples and he found his whole body temperature rising. Trembling, he led her to the bed and carefully lay her down. He stood over her, taking in her appearance. She wore a white cotton blouse and a short, blue skirt with white stockings. He could see the outline of her bra through the blouse, her nipples hard and erect.

"Nice look," he muttered as he fumbled with her buttons. He opened the blouse and admired her.

Moira’s fingers went to his neck and swiftly undid his tie. "Nice look yourself," she said.

Then she gasped, for Paul had slipped her breasts out of her bra. He leaned his head down and started to rhythmically suck her brownish-pink nipples. She wrapped her arms around his head and pressed her face into his hair. Meanwhile he slid his hands up her skirt and did his best to pull down those white pantyhose. She laughed and helped him by unzipping her skirt and Paul pulled both of them down. He pressed his face into her little curly V and said, to it as much as to her, "you smell wonderful." She giggled, but Paul couldn't hear it as her thighs were now around his ears.

His hands gripped her buttocks as he used his tongue to work miracles inside her. She writhed and moaned and pressed herself into his face. Then his hands reached up to her breasts and started tweaking both nipples at the same time, and she started crying out. He kept it up while she called his name over and over. When she had finished coming, he lifted his face up.

"I'm very glad to see you!" he grinned.

She laughed her melodic laugh and pulled him up onto the bed. She unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants, and reached in to pull out her prize. She leaned forward and began to kiss his abdomen and inner thighs, studiously avoiding his achingly erect fellow. Paul groaned in agony as she took his balls into her mouth and began to gently suck them. When his brain truly had drained out of his ears, she moved up to the shaft itself. With little tiny flicks of the tongue she worked her way up from the base to the head, and little tongue flicks around the rim. She paused for a brief moment that seemed like a lifetime to Paul, and then placed both her lips on the head and slowly drew him into her mouth. She seemed to take him all the way into her throat, and then her tongue and mouth sealed around his entire member and she began suck him with strong pulling motions from her tongue. Paul felt his teeth fall out and his fingers and toes curl into little balls, as he lay helpless on the bed. Then, when he knew he was about to have a brain hemorrhage, she began to quickly nurse him in and out of her mouth, clamping her lips over her teeth as she moved. That did it; Paul choked out her name and the name of his Maker, and nearly passed out as he exploded into her.

"That was fantastic." He kissed her on top of her head.

"You weren't half bad yourself, lover boy," she chortled, her face pressed into his chest. "Did I ever mention that you smell like apricots here?"

"Don't think so. Nope, neither in DC or Seattle do I recall you ever saying that," he said, smiling into her hair.

She looked up at him, an unreadable expression on her face. Her hand stroked his beard, and then his chest. Then she seemed to gather her thoughts together and cheerfully asked, "Well then, what are you doing in India?"

"I could ask you the same question, Moira," he said sincerely, his hand resting on her smooth hip. He noted with some pleasure that she had her little tummy again, with its intriguing silver lines. Yummy tummy, he thought, and slid his hand down to rest on its cushiony comfort. He looked up at her face, which held a bemused smile.

"I'm here on business, of course. I have a meeting with a Mr. Chakawarti of Chakawarti & Sons tomorrow morning; about a project my firm is collaborating on with his office. I have no idea how long it will last. Some time after that, we'll be going out to his proposed building site, and then meeting again to work out a contract. I'm hoping the process won't take the whole five days. I'd like a chance to do a little sightseeing." Paul suddenly realized that all the sights he wanted to see where here in this room.

She laughed that unique laugh and ran her hands through his hair. "I'd love to do some sightseeing," she said. "And I'd love to sleep, too," she added, "I've been going pretty nonstop since San Francisco, and I, unlike some people, didn't get a nap on the plane."

Paul noticed she had little purple veins in her eyelids, and small dark circles under her eyes. Her head nestled in the crook of his arm. He leaned down and softly kissed both eyes. "Sweet dreams, my love," he said, huskily.

"Night, night sweetums," she said drowsily, snuggling into him, and drifted off to sleep.

He lay for a while staring at the ceiling. His body was fatigued, but his eyes could tell it was morning. Pale pink light streamed in through the windows, and the street was getting noisy. He didn't want to sleep because he wanted her to be there when he woke. Perhaps if he held her tightly in his arms, he could get just a little shut-eye. He snuggled down and wrapped both arms around her, her face burrowed into the hollow of his neck. Soon he snored loudly over her head, and she smiled in her sleep.

When Paul woke, orange-red sunlight filled the room. His watch told him it was late afternoon. Moira snuggled against him. His arms were numb; his bladder a watermelon. He gingerly extricated himself and dashed to use the bathroom. He finished as fast as he could, wanting to get right back to her. What if she vanished before he returned?

But she was still asleep, her hair spread out behind her like gold-spun threads, the sunlight catching it and filling it with orange-red glitter. Her face looked soft and angelic, with long light-colored eyelashes resting on pale pink cheeks. Rosy lips were slightly parted and she seemed to be whispering in her sleep. In getting out of bed, Paul had pushed the bed sheets down, and they were below her waist. She lay on her side, her breasts spilling onto the sheets, the nipples large and relaxed. Her slender waist gently expanded and contracted with her breathing, making her breasts ever so slightly jiggle. Below her abdomen, curly golden hairs peeked out beneath the sheets, which covered her shapely legs. Paul felt both horny and famished at the same time. Her eyelids fluttered and then opened, blue eyes gazing at him. She surveyed his naked body with the same hunger and smiled at his hardened and erect penis.

"Mm-mm. Come to mama, sweetheart," she said, kicking off the covers.

Paul's little head won over his hungry stomach, and he came to mama in one joyous bound.

Only moments later they were both satiated, all the pillows were on the floor, and all the covers were there too. Paul lay on her, trying to stay in for as long as possible, while she stroked his hair and gave his ear and side of his face little kisses. When he finally had to slide out, she whispered, "hungry?"

"Did my rumbling tummy give me away?" he asked, his stomach adding its emphasis.

"Uh-huh," she said. "Me too. Let's go check out the food in this joint." She started to wiggle out from under him.

"Wait, wait," Paul said, painfully getting up. "I have to take a shower." He rolled off the bed and lumbered toward the shower.

"Me too, me too!" she cried, leaping up and scampering after him.

So dinner was postponed while they enjoyed a steamy, soapy shower. Fortunately, Moira did nothing that would precipitate their drowning this time, and they were able to emerge clean and fresh-smelling, ready to dress for dinner.

The restaurant at the Ashoka had everything you'd expect from a five-star hotel: cloth table linens, crystal glasses, ornate silver. The menus were in large leather folders, with gold tassels separating the pages. Paul reached for his water glass as he studied the menu. Moira stopped him.

"Not a good idea, unless you want Mr. Chakawarti to meet with you in the bathroom," she cautioned. "After the monsoon season it’s especially easy to get a case of ‘Delhi Belly’. I’d avoid drinking unboiled water and anything with ice in it."

They ordered tea, which was surprisingly refreshing considering how hot the day still was. There may have been air conditioning, but Paul couldn't feel it. The ceiling fans were too high up for any breeze to be detected. Moira ordered Tandoori chicken, then went on to request dahl and biriyani and pullao and chappati. Paul didn't know or care what this stuff was, as long as it was edible and arrived soon. The dishes did appear with amazing speed. Flat tortilla-like things that were slightly puffy. Lentils and rice and chicken and probably lamb. A curry with peas and potatoes and carrots.

"Don't drink any tea until you're finished," Moira cautioned as Paul began eating.

As the first flames hit his tongue and ran down his throat, Paul ignored her warning and reached for his cup.

"No, really. Let your mouth get used to the spiciness. If you keep drinking, it'll keep tasting hot," Moira insisted.

So Paul heeded her advice and eventually the flames died down, and he began to notice the intricate flavors of the feast before him. There were even little raisins in the curry, he hadn't noticed before. He used bites of chapatti - flat bread - to help separate the flavors, and a dollop of yogurt on things to cut their hotness. As the plate cleared, he started downing the tea. A couple bites more, the flames returned. Ah, she had been right, he realized.

They both were stuffed and so refused dessert and took walk around the grounds. It was a clear evening; the stars were magnificent. It was still warm, but not so sweltering as it had been earlier. Clay pots with etched designs lined the walkway through the gardens. Paul was wondering about them when suddenly they all lit up with electric lights inside shining through the slitted openings.
"Those are dawali lamps," Moira noted, "for their annual Festival of Light, happening this month."
"Have you been here before?" asked Paul, amazed that he got a direct question out of his mouth to her, and curious to see if she'd answer it.

"Oh..." she hesitated, thinking of the right words to say, "no, not really."

"Not really, what is that supposed to mean?" Paul asked. "But how do you know the language? How do you know so much about the culture?"

Moira grew very quiet and part of Paul wanted to retract the question, but part of him wanted to push forward. Instead, he waited patiently; they continued to walk, arm in arm. They came to a stop in front of a tree, seven feet tall, covered from roots to its top with long, broad leaves. She turned to him, put her arms around him and looked him directly in the eyes.

"I can't explain to you why I know what I know. Maybe some day I can; I hope to. But right now ... " She shook her head, looking down for a moment. Then, looking directly into his eyes again, "I will never lie to you, I will answer your questions as honestly as I can, but there are some things I'm ... not at liberty to answer. Can you understand this?"

Maybe she works for the CIA, thought Paul with trepidation. At the same time relief filled him. He kissed her forehead, and said, "I can't understand but I can accept. Is it kind of like your organization's Prime Directive?"

Her face lit up with a smile. "You do understand!" she cried, hugging him close to her.

He chuckled, "Well, now I have another question for you," his tone switched to mock seriousness, "I know you may not be able to answer it, but try."

She looked at him, puzzled, "What?"

He nodded his head towards the tree they were standing beside. "What is this thing? It looks to me like one of those tree-beings of ‘Lord of the Rings."

She scrutinized the tree. "I never thought of Ents like that: it's an avocado tree, but" she grinned, "don't ask me how I know."

They walked on, with her pointing out other plants on the way. Paul particularly liked the row of Mimosa trees, with their feathery soft pink flowers. We have trees like that in Seattle, he thought. He decided to try another question.

"You said you were transitioning assignments. When I first met you, you said you were in between assignments. Is this the same thing?" Paul asked, feeling her stiffen. He'd asked too much.

She gulped. "No, it isn't. I'm still ... on assignment right now, but I know it's ending. I know I have to stay here for a certain amount of time. The last time ... I mean, in DC… oh, it's too complicated. I really, really can't ... " her voice trailed off, sounding genuinely torn.

"That's okay, I understand, sort of ... "Paul patted her hand on his arm. "I'll try not to ask too much."
She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Thank you."

Paul stopped and pressed his face into her hair. "I love you, Moira. More than anything on earth," he said fervently. He surprised himself by adding, "and I'll accept any time we have here together, whenever we have it together."

Moira held him tightly with her face hidden in his chest. From the little movements of her shoulders, he could tell she was crying. He held her and rocked her.

He went on, "I was so broken-hearted each time you left me, especially so the last time. But now ... " he searched for the words to describe his feelings. "If we have to part this time, I think I'll be able to handle it." But as he said it, it didn't feel right. "No, I mean, I won't be happy about it, but I know I'll survive." There, that's what he meant.

As Moira looked up at him, Paul felt a twinge of pain to see the deep, deep sorrow in her eyes. "I never left you because I wanted to, but because I had to. And when we part this time, I won't be happy, either. But I'll survive, too. The hope of seeing you again will keep me going."

Then Paul's eyes filled with tears. They stood there, clinging to each other, willing the moment to last forever.

Paul awakened the next morning with the phone ringing. He thought it was his wake-up call from the front desk, but it turned out to be Mr. Chakawarti's secretary.

"Good morning, Mr. Marbanks. Mr. Chakawarti called to tell you that he is sending a car for you and Mrs. Marbanks." The lilting Indian voice came across the receiver.

"Car for me and who?" he echoed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Oh, Mrs. Marbanks. How did he know about Mrs. Marbanks?"

"Oh, Mr. Chakawarti knows everything," her voice was irritatingly cheerful. "He is a very, very well informed man. He says to tell you that Mrs. Marbanks is welcome to sit in on the meeting, or she may use the car and driver to see our most beautiful sights in Delhi. The car will be at your hotel in approximately 45 minutes."

Forty-five minutes? Paul glanced at his watch. It was 7:30 AM.

"Uh, thank you. We'll be there," Paul said and quickly got off the phone.

He patted Moira's sleeping rump. "Wake up, sleepyhead. We have to be downstairs in forty-five minutes." He swung out of bed and headed to the bathroom.

Moira's voice came from underneath her pillow. "Why?" she asked plaintively.

"Mr. Chakawarti expects both of us," he called from the shower. If she asked anything else, he couldn't hear -- he had shampoo in his ears.

Moira didn't have to use words to express what she thought of having to get up. She walked into the bathroom and flushed the toilet. After Paul stopped screaming and the water temperature stabilized, she climbed in as Paul finished. He kissed her, his wet beard dribbling little cold drops on her, so she wriggled under the main stream of warm water. He playfully grabbed her buttocks, and drew her close.

"We don't have time," she protested.

"Yeah, you're right. I'll take a rain check." He patted her butt. "Hold that thought," he told her, and got out, leaving her to wash her hair.

Clean but still damp-haired, they met Mr. Chakawarti's driver in the Ashoka's lobby. The fellow bowed slightly.

"Mr. and Mrs. Marbanks, I'm Rajinder, Mr. Chakawarti's personal driver. I will be having the pleasure of driving you to your wishes." His head tilted from side to side as he talked.

Paul noticed Moira start at being called Mrs. Marbanks, grateful that she didn't say anything. As she climbed into the car, she whispered to him "Moira Marbanks?"

He cocked an eye at her. "Paul Gottsdotter?"

She looked at him, and put her hand to his cheek. "Paul Godson."

The driver launched into a monologue about the beautiful sights of the city, so Paul pondered her comment in silence. They passed pitiful-looking Himalayan black bears, dancing upright on swollen hind feet, being hit with a stick if they made a mistake. People with missing or deformed limbs sat on the sidewalk calling for baksheesh. There were bullock carts going five miles an hour, blocking the traffic, and emaciated white Brahmin bulls wandering wherever they pleased. They passed one in the street that had been dead quite a while.

"Excuse me," Paul interrupted the driver. "Why hasn't somebody removed that dead cow?"

"Cow is sacred, holy animal. They may go wherever they please. When truck -- bam, hits Cow! Cow is very holy, we cannot touch." The driver said in punctuated sentences as he wove in and out of traffic.

They passed a long hedgerow that several men were facing, their dhotis -- baggy white loincloths -- hitched up one leg. Moira averted her twinkling eyes, but Paul stared -- he'd only seen men pissing outdoors on camping trips.

The office building of Chakawarti and Sons was large and white, with tinted windows. Inside it had an open-roofed atrium, filled with a great pond and all manner of plants. Fish flitted beneath lotus pads, and there floated four black swans. Mr. Chakawarti's administrative assistant, a serious young man whose thick glasses made his eyes look unusually large, met Paul and Moira. The swans, he explained, were new. At first there were geese, but then Mr. Chakawarti had added giant turtles. One by one the geese disappeared, and so did all the fish. Finally, Mr. Chakawarti removed the turtles and replaced the fish. The geese had been too noisy before their demise, so he added swans instead. The executive offices and conference rooms were on the far side of the pond.

Mr. Chakawarti appeared from behind a large, polished teak door. He was about five feet tall, quite rotund, wearing a Nehru jacket and cotton trousers with sandals. He walked towards Paul with his hands extended in welcome.

"I am so pleased to meet you, dear boy. And I am so sorry to hear about the devastation in San Francisco. I have been unable to get a telephone call through to your dear Uncle, but we received a telegram this morning saying all is well."

Paul stared at the old gentleman. "I beg your pardon? What happened in San Francisco?"

"Did you not hear? Oh, my goodness, you must have entirely missed it during your flight. The earthquake, my dear boy, the earthquake. Shook the baseball stadium, broke one of your bridges, and an overpass completely collapsed. Completely. I am surprised they did not contact you at your hotel." He gestured towards the doors to his office. "If you would like to attempt a telephone call, please use the one in my private office."

Paul hurried into the office and tried calling San Francisco. “All phone lines are busy,” the operator said. After the fifth try, Paul put down the receiver and joined the others.

"You are having no luck, eh what?" Mr. Chakawarti, "Well, as I was telling your lovely wife here, your uncle assured me in the telegram that negotiations can continue without pause. He said that your Seattle office would be able to fill in if the San Francisco office were unable to."

Paul wondered how Michael and the others would take that news when they were already booked for the next five years with local projects. But he said, "Of course, of course, my office would be happy to fill in, but let us both hope that the San Francisco branch has not been too affected by this ... " Paul searched for a neutral word to cover his anxiety. "situation. Shall we begin our meeting?"

Mr. Chakawarti's five sons, taller and more slender versions of himself, met them in the conference room. They all sat around a large teak table, while a woman in a pale blue, cotton dress and pants, a silk scarf slung across her neck, with the ends hanging down her back, poured tea for them all. As they sipped their tea, Mr. Chakawarti recounted his meeting with Stephen Marbanks. Several points he made were not what Uncle Stephen had told Paul, and Paul said so. Deadline dates, job specifics and even set fees were completely altered in favor of Chakawarti’s company. Mr. Chakawarti brushed his comments aside and continued talking. Moira sat up a little straighter, but said nothing. His secretary sat at the end of the table typing the meeting notes into a computer. His administrative assistant came and left at varying intervals, obviously keeping track of other business in the outer office. When the older gentleman finished his monologue, he nodded to Paul. Paul took a deep breath and repeated his comments; Mr. Chakawarti nodded his head non-committally. The secretary was not typing Paul's comments. One of the sons leaned over and said something in Hindi into Mr. Chakawarti's ears. Mr. Chakawarti nodded to his secretary and she typed something into the laptop.

The morning went on this way, with Paul getting more and more frustrated, as the talks all wove into Mr. Chakawarti's version of the truth. Then it was time for lunch, and they all stood up. Mr. Chakawarti smiled at Moira and said, "I hope we were not too boring to you with all this business talk."

Moira leveled her gaze at him. Her reply to him was in fluent Hindi, causing a shock wave through Mr. Chakawarti and the others. Mr. Chakawarti recovered himself and said, "I must apologize for my son’s " he emphasized, "rudeness. We did not know that Mr. Marbanks possessed himself such a talented wife."

One of his sons whispered something else. Moira responded directly to him in another language, and then directly to Mr. Chakawarti in a third. Paul stood by her side, dumb-founded.

"Urdu and Sanskrit. I am most impressed," Mr. Chakawarti said. "Of course, you have no need to worry about the use of Sanskrit," Mr. Chakawarti assured them, "it is quite a dead language and none of my sons have mastered it."

"Except for the National Anthem, I hope?" Moira said.

"But of course, of course." Then with the seasoned skill of the most tactful ambassador, Mr. Chakawarti led them into another topic of conversation and another room for lunch. They dined on samosas, little triangular pastries filled with curried lentils, and a delicious coconut soup.

Paul found himself able to respond to Mr. Chakawarti's questions on various subjects with some degree of intelligence. Little got by the old fellow, and he quizzed Paul to see how he stacked up against his Uncle Stephen. Satisfied, he turned to Moira and offered amusing anecdotes on his various grandchildren and how his wife and daughters were such devoted mothers. In addition, his daughters each had their Ph.D.s; one was an engineer for Boeing in Kansas and the other was a university professor in southern California, but both made their family their top priority. Paul glanced sideways to check Moira's reaction to this. Moira responded that she knew that Indian women did indeed seem to be superb mothers. How impressed she was that Indira Ghandi had been able to make such a sizable contribution to world history while managing to remain a devoted mother and grandmother. She had been a mother to all India, Moira noted. Mr. Chakawarti gave her a Cheshire cat smile and segued the conversation into art and literature.

After lunch all the Chakawarti sons disappeared, leaving Mr. Chakawarti alone with Paul and Moira. His secretary handed Mr. Chakawarti a copy of the meeting's minutes, which he glanced over. Mr. Chakawarti handed them back to her. "Make a copy of these for Mr. Marbanks to take back to his hotel, please." Then he turned to Paul and heartily thumped him on the back. "Well, that was not so difficult a morning, eh what? And tomorrow we shall see the property. I'll send my driver for you at the same time." The secretary returned with the copy, which Mr. Chakawarti handed to Paul. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go into another meeting, but please let my driver show you the beautiful sights of the city. If you have not had the opportunity to see Old Delhi, you really should do so, it positively reeks of history." He smiled at Moira, "It was most fascinating to meet you Mrs. Marbanks. I hope you will enjoy your stay. You simply must visit the Chandi Chowk Bazaar; it is my wife's most favorite shopping area."

Moira beamed a smile at him that took him slightly aback. "Oh, it was a pleasure to meet you Mr. Chakawarti, and most educational. I learned so much about your country's art and literature."
"Thank you for your kind offer of your driver," said Paul, "but I'll have to decline the tour today. I'm anxious to get back to the hotel and contact my uncle." He shook hands with the older gentleman. "We look forward to seeing you tomorrow," Paul emphasized the 'we', as Mr. Chakawarti had pointedly not invited Moira for the following day. Paul had enough knowledge and expertise to assess the building site and ask the right questions, but he knew Moira's help would get him the real answers.

On the way back, the driver took the scenic route via buildings that were a collage of mud huts built up against Moghul ruins. There were modern-looking houses and apartments a block away from Imperial Palaces that displayed the grand English Colonial architecture and design at its best. Paul marveled that, even today, India was a country of such stark contrasts. On the street there were well-dressed people standing beside people in rags. Mercedes-Benzes drove past bicycle cabs. The caste system seemed still to be evident, birth still defining much about who one was, rather than education or economic status.

Moira and Paul talked little during the ride back to the hotel. Paul didn't want to say much about the meeting in front of Mr. Chakawarti's driver. Moira looked out the window, absorbing all the passing sights and sounds. She seemed to be taking pictures with her eyelids, as they kept flickering. Paul figured it must be the light and made a mental note that they both needed sunglasses.

When they arrived at the Ashoka, Paul checked the front desk for messages. Finding none, they went to the elevators.

“So what were Chakawarti’s sons saying during our meeting today?” Paul asked at the elevator doors closed. He was dying to know.

“Oh, just derogatory comments about me,” Moira said, vaguely.

Paul felt a flush of defensiveness. “What sort of comments?”

“Oh, Paul, this is India. Women don't have the same equality as in the States.” Moira wasn’t in the least bit offended. “They were uncomfortable with my energetic presence, and made comments to make themselves feel more powerful.” She looked at Paul with a twinkle in her eye. “Didn’t work though, did it?”

The twinkle diffused Paul’s anger as the doors opened at their floor. “It certainly did not.” he chuckled as they went to their suite.

Inside, Paul headed for the phone by the bed and Moira sat in the nearest chair and began meditating. Paul dialed the San Francisco office.

"You have reached Marbanks Architects. Our office hours are from 8:30 am to 5:30 PM. If you know the extension of the person whom you wish to dial..."

Paul hung up. "Moira, what time is it on the West Coast right now?"

Without opening her eyes, she said, "It's about thirteen and a half hours earlier. So it's about one thirty in the morning."

That meant they had to wait until nine PM to call his uncle at home before he left for the office. Six hours to kill. Paul stood up, went to the window and looked down at the street below. There were taxis and also auto rickshaws at the curb.

"Moira, how'd you like to check out Chandi Chowk?"

"Fine with me." Moira bent over and touched the floor by her feet.

They chose an auto rickshaw, a three-wheeled scooter with room for two passengers on the back. As soon as they took off, Paul regretted his choice. The driver was fearless -- or insane. He cut off buses and swerved around bullock carts, all at what seemed like 100 MPH. Whenever a traffic light forced him to stop, they were invariably right beside or behind a truck laden with rotting fruit and emitting black billows of exhaust. Then there were the potholes. He'd scarcely noticed them on the way in from the airport, but the black-and-orange cab they'd been in had shock absorbers, which this vehicle did not. By the time they'd arrived at Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi, Paul thought he seriously needed a chiropractor and a neck brace.

Chandi Chowk was an open air bazaar with a million little shops, selling everything from sandals to silks, food to books. Paul kept finding things he wanted to buy to give to Moira, but each time she stopped him.

"I don't want any things, Paul. It's too hard to travel as often as I do with things." Moira seemed distracted.

As they walked along the street outside the bazaar, a group of women approached them, one very pregnant and in great pain. They pulled on Paul's arm and chattered at him, using a little broken English and another language. They were asking for rupees so they could see a doctor.

Paul said to Moira, "We should give them some money. It's obvious she needs a doctor."
Moira shot Paul an exasperated look, and then began addressing the women in their language, which turned out to be Urdu. She gestured towards Paul and the expressions on the women's faces turned from urgency and pain to ones of surprise and then smiles. Moira reached for Paul's hands and started to push them towards the pregnant woman, but her friends pulled her back and instead they clasped their hands, prayer style and started to back off. Moira said something else and they all nodded.

"Shukria, shukria," they said, and disappeared into the crowd.

"What was that all about?" asked Paul, totally mystified.

"Well, you were right. They were asking for money for their friend to see the doctor. I told them you were a doctor and would be glad to examine their friend for free. When they started protesting, I offered to share a cab with them to the hospital, and that's when they started thanking us and backing off." Moira smiled at Paul. "You were being had, darling."

Paul's forehead wrinkled in confusion, totally thrown for a loop. This was definitely not Seattle.

"No, it's not Seattle," Moira chuckled, and took his arm. "I'm tired of shopping. Let's go get some dinner."

They hailed a black-and-orange taxi, and went to a cafe in the Santushi Shopping Center, which turned out to be two blocks from the hotel.

"If I'd known this were here, I'd have suggested walking to go shopping instead of hiring that scooter cab," muttered Paul, rubbing his neck. Several hours of jostling through traffic, and then several hours of being jostled by people in marketplaces, had gotten to him. Also the incessant cries of "baksheesh, baksheesh" from beggars (some hideously deformed) had worn his nerves thin. Moira had explained to him that they were professional beggars, being born into the beggar caste, and that most were purposely mutilated at birth to enhance their earning capabilities. He was having a hard time understanding India.

They sat down to jasmine tea and a delicious meal he couldn't pronounce. The hot tea restored him, or perhaps it was the restaurant fans cooling his sweat soaked-shirt. Again there were chapatis and rice and curry, mango chutney and yogurt sauce with mint. The food definitely improved his spirits. He looked at Moira, matter-of-factly nibbling on a chapati and looking indifferently around the marketplace, as if she'd lived there all her life. It added to his sense of unreality. Was he really in this strange, foreign place? Was she really here in front of him? He reached forward and touched her arm, just to make sure.

She smiled at him. "You know, Paul, after this meal we really should walk back to the hotel so you can take a nap. It's now five thirty in the morning your time, and you've been going for almost twelve hours nonstop."

Ah, that explained his intense exhaustion. But Moira looked radiant and tireless.

"What's your secret, Moira? Why aren't you as exhausted as I am?" Paul asked.

Moira shrugged her shoulders. "I do get exhausted, but I'm not right now. Maybe it's because I meditate." She gave him an impish smile to imply she wasn't entirely serious.

Perhaps that was it. Perhaps her meditation was what made her seem so serene and effortless most of the time. Maybe that was why she was so different from anybody he'd ever known.

Paul took a sip of tea. "Moira, what was your impression of today's meeting?"

"What do you mean, exactly?" Moira's blue eyes were unreadable.

"Well, it was just so bizarre! I've never been in a business meeting like it. And those minutes! I looked them over in the car and they only show Chakawarti's statements. It was as if I wasn't there. What was the point?" Paul swatted a fly away from his food. "I mean, the most important thing in a meeting is clear communication, especially if there's a language difference. This is supposed to be a cooperative project, after all. We both want it to be a success. I just don't understand their behavior."

Moira smiled. "Some of today was due to Mr. Chakawarti's personality, but a lot of the confusion you're experiencing is due to cultural differences."

Paul wrinkled his forehead. "Cultural differences?"

"You know, like with the Japanese. Besides their overt politeness and precise attention to detail, there's a myriad of unspoken expectations based on thousands of years of Japanese culture. A similar thing is going on here, Paul. You have to suspend your own judgments in order to deal with them clearly. Do you follow me?"

Paul shook his head. "I wish Michael were here. Not that he could help me with understanding India, but he's been the one to handle any negotiations we've had so far with Asians in Seattle. I feel like a fish out of water. I've never done anything like this, and I have no idea how to proceed." Paul thought he saw a flicker of surprise flash through Moira's eyes, but when he looked again they were as unreadable as ever.

"I'll try to help in whatever way I can." Moira squeezed Paul's hand. "What else do you have to do here?"

Paul smiled his thanks. "Tomorrow we'll meet Chakawarti at the building site. That reminds me, I need to go over the preliminary design plans when we get back to the hotel. We still have to negotiate details on the final working drawings -- God knows how long that will take if today's meeting was any indication of how things get done in this part of the world."

Moira laughed. "Well, I can offer some advice on how to handle tomorrow, if you'd like to hear it."


"Release your expectations of how business is supposed to be conducted. As you've already noticed, the way things are done in Seattle is completely different from the way things are done in Delhi."

Paul nodded. "Anything else?"

A Mona Lisa smile traced across her lips. "Just ... go with the flow."

Paul pounced on the phrase. "Go with the flow! You've said that before. What do you mean?"

Moira stared down at her hands. "I asked a teacher of mine, a long time ago, how to handle unexpected situations. And my teacher told me, 'go with the flow.'" Moira looked up into Paul's eyes. "Don't resist what's coming at you. Respond to what is going on, but don't create friction with your own actions. Do you understand?"

The heat suddenly started to get to Paul and he was quite dizzy. "I think so."

Moira reached across the table and touched his forehead with her finger. The dizziness faded. "Eat your dinner, it will help your body feel better."

They finished their meal with a discussion of various places to sightsee in the coming days, if Paul's work finished by tomorrow as he anticipated it would. There were a few sights around Delhi that Paul wanted to see, simply because of the historic architecture. Moira also suggested the Taj Mahal, which would be a day trip as it was a hundred miles outside of Delhi. With those possibilities in their minds, they returned to the hotel.

The walk had done Paul some good, and he was quite relaxed when they got to their room. The air conditioning was a welcome treat. Paul decided to take a nap above the sheets with his clothes on, with the provision that Moira wake him in two hours to call his uncle. Moira sat in the chair in the living area and closed her eyes to meditate, and Paul closed his eyes in the bedroom and was out within seconds.

At 7:45 AM PST, Paul tried his uncle's home number in Palo Alto. His Aunt Sarah answered.

"Oh Paul, how are you? It’s been too long!" Aunt Sarah greeted him. "Good heavens, Stephen hasn't lived here for six months. The old coot left me for some legal secretary, although I've heard she's dumped him now. She must be smarter than the other ones," Aunt Sarah said flippantly.

"Oh, Aunt Sarah, I'm so sorry to hear that. I had no idea." Paul said. Uncle Stephen had told no one in the family that he and Aunt Sarah were split up.

"Oh Paul, you sweetheart, nothing to be sorry about. I'm having the time of my life. As for Stephen, I'm sorry to say this, he is your uncle after all, but good riddance to bad rubbish. He gave me a gift by leaving me, he really did." It was true, Aunt Sarah sounded happier than she had in all the years Paul had known her. "Sorry I can't help you out with finding him -- I have no idea where he is or who he's living with now. Why don't you try your Seattle office, if you can't get through down here?"

Paul took some time to collect himself after talking to his aunt. He looked at his watch. It was forty-five minutes until either West Coast office opened for the day. He hadn't considered that his uncle would ever leave Aunt Sarah. He looked over at Moira, who sat peacefully with her eyes closed, a slight smile to her lips. How casually people took their marriages, it seemed. Here he was, halfway around the world with the woman he loved and wanted to be with more than anyone or anything else. He couldn't imagine why someone wouldn't value their marriage. Then, the image of Maggie hit him square between the eyes and he sank his head into his hands. He'd forgotten Maggie. He got up and took a long, hot shower.

Still dripping and wrapped in a terry bathrobe, he dialed Seattle.

"Good morning, Marbanks Architects." A familiar voice came over the receiver.

Paul struggled to recall the new receptionist's name. "Alice! Hi, it's Paul. Is Michael in?"

"Oh, Mr. Marbanks, are you okay??? We didn't know if you made it out of San Francisco before the earthquake!" Alice exclaimed over the line. "Francis told everybody it was just about the time your plane took off!"

Paul had been so preoccupied with meeting Moira again that he'd completely forgotten to check in at the office. If he had, he'd have known about the earthquake right away. He should talk to Francis, his administrative assistant. But Michael was the one left in charge, and would be the one to receive any direct communication from San Francisco.

"I'm in Delhi. I didn't even know about the 'quake until this morning." Paul said into the phone.

"Well, we are so glad you're okay," said Alice, speaking as if she'd told the office already.

Considering how loud her voice could be at times, she probably already had by answering his phone call. "I'll put you on to Mr. Takatsuka. Hold, please."

"Paul! Man, it's so good to hear your voice. We didn't know if you’d made it out of there or not." Michael's voice came strongly over the line.

"I'm fine. But I can't get a line into San Francisco. Have you heard from Star Fleet?" Paul asked.

"Oh, yes. The Admiral is alive and kicking. The baseball stadium he was in got pretty shook up, but nothing can kill that old buzzard." Michael laughed. "Their office building got a little damaged. They're still assessing it. And it messed up the computer system bad, man. Totally screwed everything."
"What about their backup?" Paul automatically asked. Backing up the day's data was a closing ritual for every Seattle employee.

"Well, Steve baby doesn't run as tight a ship as you do. Seems his administrative assistant was new and not entirely computer literate. She maybe did back up once a month, and the rest of the office staff varied with how often they did it. Stephen's main files are a disaster, as far as they can tell. Each time they start to look into it, the power goes down. It's bad news."

Paul whistled. "Well, I won't tell Mr. Chakawarti that. So how is communication between the branches going?"

"It's touch and go. Sometimes they can call out, but we can't ever get a line in. Several employees who live in the suburbs have been e-mailing us from their homes. We've taken on a lot of their projects. It's a bitch, man." He could hear Michael sipping his coffee.

"Well, keep me informed. Oh, and the next time you get through to Star Fleet, have the Admiral contact me at the hotel. Anything else, Number One?" Paul asked.

"Nah, nothing that can't wait until you get back. Enjoy India man, work on your tan. Find a guru." Michael chuckled.

"Well, I've found someone else, but I'll fill you in when I get back." Paul smiled.

"I can hardly wait. Take care, okay? Oh, Francis wants to talk to you." Michael transferred the phone over.

"Mr. Marbanks? Oh, thank goodness you're all right. I realize I should have contacted the hotel in New Delhi, but I didn't think of it. I kept trying to contact the airlines in San Francisco and didn’t get anywhere." Francis sounded relieved.

"I'm fine, Francis. Sorry I didn't contact you -- I've been busy. How is everything going?" Paul asked with concern.

"Oh, like clockwork, Mr. Marbanks. I just wanted to tell you that I'm going to change your airline reservation to a direct flight back to Seattle. The Bay Area is still having aftershocks."

"Good thinking, ensign."

Francis laughed. "Well, um, aye, aye Captain," she said gamely. Francis was more of a Masterpiece Theater fan herself; a lot of the Star Trek jargon went right over her head.

"See you soon." Paul hung up the phone.

Moira opened her eyes and stretched. Then she bent forward and touched her hands to the floor. Then she sat back up and waved at Paul who sat on the edge of the bed in the other room.
"How are things?" she walked over to him.

"Oh, not as bad as I feared. It sounds like Star Fl -- I mean, the San Francisco office is in kind of a mess, but no one was hurt, thank God. Since I can't get hold of them directly, I asked Michael to have them contact me here. I'm afraid that means no sightseeing for today, at least. I'll be hanging around here until tomorrow morning."

Moira sat down near him. "That's fine with me." She hesitated, "I didn't know Michael worked with you now."

Paul was surprised. He hadn't known she knew who Michael was.

"Well, I'm assuming he was your college buddy who lived in Seattle. But I think the last time we were together he worked for someone else. Am I right?"

"Yes. Michael's a good friend, and my Number One at the company. It was strange you never met him when we lived together." Paul's stomach had butterflies thinking about then.

"Well, we were pretty wrapped up in each other." Moira grinned and lay back on the bed. She propped her head up with her hand. "You've changed a lot over time," she mused.

Paul looked at her, "Ripened like a fine wine? Or aged like cheese?" He grinned.

"Oh, you were such a cutie in DC." Moira smiled as if it were yesterday "A young hunk. So -- buff." She reached out and touched his arm. "In Seattle," she screwed up her face as if trying to remember, "you were still a hunk but more ... of a person, I think. I mean, you were a more full person, you know what I mean?"

"I think so," Paul didn't really understand but he loved hearing Moira talk about him. "And what am I now, a flabby old man?" he teased.

She laughed, slipped her hand under his robe and caressed his stomach. "Hardly. I love your stomach. It's not as rock hard as it used to be, but it's not a potbelly, either. It's," she rolled over and kissed it through his robe, "soft and fuzzy and I like it."

Paul sensed his interest rising, but he wanted to keep talking. It seemed like so many of their potential conversations were sidetracked by intense lovemaking. He wanted to get to know this woman that he felt so bonded with. "And who do you like best, the cute hunk, the more full person or the soft and fuzzy guy?"

She laughed, "Well, you were really something in Los--" she stuttered, "I mean last night." She reached up and touched his cheek, "last night you were really something. But I love you each time, so it's hard to favor one time more than the other."

Paul reached out and stroked her golden hair. "And I've loved you from the moment I first set eyes on you."

"Nah, you didn't. It was lust at first sight. Simple, college-boy lust," she teased.

"No, Moira," Paul held her head between his hands, "I remember." He gently kissed her forehead.
She cuddled up against him, playing with the front of his robe, softly fingering his chest hair. "I do, too."

He held her in his arms, enjoying the gentle arousal he was feeling. He kissed the top of her head. "Moira, do you remember us saying something about cosmic timing?"

"Like it was yesterday," she grinned, rubbing her chin against his shoulder.

"Well, do you think that Fate, or the Universe, or whatever, will ultimately allow us to be together?"

"We're together now," she observed.

"No, I mean that we'll be able to be together for -- I don't know if I'd say forever, but -- yeah, I'd like it to be forever." Paul’s his heart started to beat a little harder.

She rolled over and looked him in the eyes. "I don't know what the Universe has planned for us. It's always a surprise to me. I do know I can't go back to Seattle when you're scheduled to, though."
Paul's heart sank; a that was what he'd been getting to.

"Well, then, I'll just have to accept being with you now." He kissed her on the lips. "And pray for the future."

Rajinder picked them up early the next morning and drove them out through the suburbs to the building site. The houses and paved roads gave way to fields and dusty lanes, mud hut villages with dung fires burning, emaciated goats and muddy pigs chased by toddlers naked from the waist down.

Mr. Chakawarti and his sons were waiting for them by a large field bordered by tall trees and a stream. He welcomed Paul and Moira warmly and led them on a walk around the site. He explained to Paul that the stream only existed at this time of year, after the monsoons. By December or January it would return to a dusty gully. Paul asked perfunctory questions and received an education about building in India, glad that he wasn't a contractor. Paul and Mr. Chakawarti stood out in the middle of the field looking at the plans, while the others took refuge in the shade of the trees. It was a productive morning. By the time the inspection was over they had decided to divert the stream away from the parking area into a small lake behind the building. An outdoor sitting area and extra windows for the lower floor restaurant near the lake were added to the plans as well. It turned out that Mr. Chakawarti's nephew was a landscape designer, and they decided to hire him to landscape the area. Before the sun had reached its midpoint in the sky, they were on their way back to Chakawarti and Son's offices.

They finalized the contract over lunch and made some alterations to the previous days' minutes as Paul pointed out the several discrepancies in them. Moira had little to say or do, but it seemed that her mere presence kept their hosts well-behaved. By two o'clock that afternoon, Paul's business was done. He had two days left in India before his flight back to Seattle.

Rajinder cheerfully took them on a driving tour of both old and New Delhi. Weaving in and out of traffic, dodging those ubiquitous bullock carts and bicycle cabs, he gave a little narrative on the history as well as the interesting sights. It turned out that there have been many Delhis. With each successive ruler an old one was abandoned and a new one built, sometimes in a different location, sometimes on top of the old city, so there were many layers of history. Paul’s face was glued to the window.

American cities were infants compared to Delhi; even Washington, D.C. didn't have the same depth of past. It was so different from anything he'd ever seen or experienced. He glanced over at Moira several times. Most of the time she had her eyes closed, meditating. When her eyes were open, she seemed to be looking beyond all the people and animals and things. He wondered what she was seeing, and how it differed from what he saw. The driver pulled up to Lodi Gardens and Tombs and parked the car.

"Very, very beautiful place," Rajinder said, "you simply must take a little walk. I will be waiting here when you return." He shooed them toward the place, and went to join some people he knew in the shade of a young banyan tree.

At the entrance to the gardens, there was a young man with a large cooler cart on wheels. "Pani Wallah, Pani Wallah," he cried.

"He's saying 'Water Seller, Water Seller'." Moira translated for Paul. "That certainly doesn't look like water." Moira said to the Pani Wallah, looking at his cart.

The very dark fellow flashed white teeth. "Yes, Mem-Sahib. I am selling bottled water, very cold, very delicious." He held up two bottles of mineral water with ice dripping off them.

Paul reached into his pocket for some rupees, but Moira stayed his hand. "Have you any cola or orange soda?"

"Certainly, Mem-Sahib." He pulled out a bottle of each.

Moira turned to Paul and said, "I highly recommend a brand name soda with a cap that looks factory sealed."

Recalling the bit about water at their first dinner, Paul took her suggestion quickly. They both purchased sodas and went in through the red-bricked walls to the Lodi Gardens.

"They tend to make their own mineral water, or get it from the black market. You'd find that it would be less pure than water from a tap on the street," Moira said, taking a sip of her soda from a paper straw.

Paul nodded and looked back at the Pani Wallah. "He's darker than most of the people around here. Is he Indian, or from some place else?"

"His accent was from Madras." Moira said, absently. "That's down south towards the tip of the continent. People are fairer around here in the north, and get progressively browner as you get closer to the equator. Well, you'd find that anywhere -- Africa, as well."

The Lodi gardens were well kept, with vast stretches of extremely short green grass bordered by neat rows of marigolds. There were people sitting on the grass having picnics here and there, and a group of school children in white shirts and blue shorts or skirts over by some leaning date palms. Several were laughing excitedly under one tree; a schoolboy had climbed halfway up and triumphantly waved his arm in a cast over his head.

"Look at that boy with the broken arm!" Moira said, "What would his mother say if she saw him climbing that way?"

Paul had to laugh, "Moira, I've never heard you so maternal!" She sounded so like his own mother, or his sister talking about her own kids.

Moira glanced sharply at him, and then grinned. "It looks like boys will be boys, no matter where in the world you are!"

They walked to Mohammed Shah's tomb, which Paul recalled from his reading as a prototype of later Moghul tombs. With its octagonal form, sloping buttresses and projecting eaves, he could see in its style the design that would eventually develop into the Taj Mahal. He was absorbed in thought, studying its lines and noting the design of the brick, when he realized Moira was standing beside him, softly laughing.

"Sorry," he said. "It's the architect in me."

"I know. But check this out." Moira grabbed him by the arm and led him, not up the stairs into the main part of the tomb, but down through the darkened tunnel beneath it.

A few yards into the tunnel, they no longer had the daylight behind them and Paul could see nothing but blackness.

"Listen," whispered Moira.

Paul strained his ears, but detected nothing. Then a slight wind blew through the place, and there was a rustling over his head. Leaves? he thought, but nothing could grow in this darkness. Then a few squeaks made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

"Bats!" Paul croaked.

"Run!" Moira let go of his hand, and took off into the darkness.

Paul froze for a millisecond, but the rustling of wings jolted him into movement. He raced after her footsteps, with the image of thousands of bats chasing him. Moments later they were both out in the glaring sunshine again, and less than a dozen winged rodents followed them out of the tomb.

Moira held her sides, laughing. Paul looked at her indignantly.

"That was not funny!" Paul said hotly. "I nearly wet my pants in there." But Moira was so helpless with laughter that Paul had to join her. He gathered her into his arms and kissed her, her lips slightly salty from perspiration. He noticed how pale she was. They had been in Delhi for three days, and Paul already sported a tan. Moira, who had been going around in sleeveless dresses and no suntan lotion that Paul had noticed, remained translucent -- although her cheeks were slightly flushed from laughing. If her hair hadn't been golden, and her eyes not blue, Paul would have suspected she an albino. She looked up into his brown eyes.

"I love you." She smiled a contented smile.

He rested his forehead against hers. "I love you," he said, huskily, "with all my heart and soul."

Rajinder took them the long route back to their hotel, so it was dark by the time they arrived. He was on loan to them for the next two days, so they decided to take a side trip to Agra the next day. One couldn't visit India without seeing the Taj Mahal.

They left at dawn the next morning, with box lunches as the drive was going to take several hours. It was a long, dusty drive, and Paul was grateful to be in an air-conditioned car as opposed to one of the rickety tin buses that lumbered by with people hanging out the windows. It must be like an oven inside one of those, thought Paul. The traffic was heavy the entire way. Their car was one of the swiftest vehicles on the road, most people being on bicycle or bullock cart; even the buses were making a top speed of only 35 miles an hour. But the trucks came zooming by at nearly a hundred miles per hour, creating several hair-raising incidents.

"I think the truck drivers must get paid by how quickly they deliver their goods, not how far they travel," Moira commented, after one close call that nearly drove them off the road.

"They drive like they're on drugs." Paul muttered.

"Oh, they probably are." Moira said, matter-of-factly.

They arrived in the city of Agra around noon. The city itself, with its crowded alleys and crazed rickshaw riders, looked like an extension of Delhi. They drove through without stopping, munching on their box lunches. The road to the Taj Mahal passed a golf course and many imposing hotels.

Rajinder dropped them off at the main gate and drove away to find a petrol station.

Paul and Moira followed the crowd through the main gate’s red sandstone arches and stopped to get oriented inside. There was a large pond with white marbled lotus fountains dotting its placid water.

Past a white stone bench, steps went down to a long, slender canal flanked by cypress trees that led directly to the base of the Taj Mahal itself. It was a majestic sight, with its central white dome flanked by smaller domes and minarets, all standing out starkly against the clear blue sky. Paul started walking towards it as if drawn by its spell, not noticing the ornamental gardens on either side. It seemed to be pure white until he got closer and noticed the elaborate pattern of white and dark marble around its many arches. He ascended the steps, pausing to notice the semiprecious stones inlaid in the walls. Running his hand over the cool marble, he felt it's delicate ridges and outlines. He found himself at one of the doorways into the tomb, surrounded by people removing their sandals.

Paul looked around for Moira. She was halfway up the stairs behind him helping a small, bent woman whose white sari sash covered her gray-white hair, scale the steps. She looked up and waved. It took a few minutes for her to catch up to him, while guards in khaki uniforms kept gesturing for him to remove his loafers.

"Thank you, my dear. I am most grateful for your kind assistance," the elderly woman said in a well-bred English accent.

"Oh, it was nothing. Thank you for your charming story." Moira smiled and half bowed.

Then the woman disappeared into the crowd and Moira joined Paul.

"A missionary from Lucknow." Moira explained to Paul. "She's lived here sixty years, but she's originally from Brighton. Oh, don't leave your shoes here -- they mightn't be here when you come out." She picked Paul's expensive loafers up from the ground and stashed them in a plastic shopping bag she'd had wadded in her pocket. She slipped off her chappel sandals and added them to the bag. Barefoot, they both wandered into the tomb.

It was dark and cool inside, even in the swarm of people. The ceilings gracefully curved upwards under the soaring marble dome, with light filtering in from finely cut marble screens. A tour guide demonstrated the echo in this high chamber, his voice going round and round and fading into the air.

Paul wanted to stand there and study its lines and arches forever. He moved from one side to another, noticing how the view changed with each different angle. Finally he felt Moira's hand slip into his.

"I'd like to see the Red Fort before we head back." she whispered.

Reluctantly, Paul left with her, realizing that one day wasn't long enough for him to absorb the beauty of the place. He would have liked to see its exterior in the morning light, and wished he could stay to see the sunset. But the Red Fort would be another visual feast, so they slipped their shoes back on and went to find Rajinder.

Their well-rested chauffeur (they found him sleeping in the car with the motor running to power the air conditioning) was only too pleased to drive them up the road along the river to the Red Fort. A sprawling, sandstone structure of many turrets and domes and stairs, it was quite a climb to get inside. By this time of day, Paul wasn't that interested in architecture, but more in enjoying wandering the ruins hand in hand with Moira.

Paul took Moira's hands. "If you can't come home with me, then I'll stay here with you. My visa is good for fifteen days. If you need to stay longer, I'll extend it."

Moira shook her head. "How about your work, Paul? Won't they need you back in the States?"

"Oh, they're managing now, they can manage a bit longer. What are your plans after Delhi?"

Holding his hand, Moira started walking towards the edge of the Fort. "Well, I was thinking it might be a nice break to go up to Srinager." She looked over at him. "That's in Kashmir, the foothills of the Himalayas. So it's cooler up there than here." She grinned. "I'm thinking of renting a houseboat. Or maybe I'll go over to Bombay. I really miss the ocean." Her voice trailed off as they came to a slit in the wall. Through it they could see the Yamuna River and, farther down, the Taj Mahal.

"Did you know there could have been two Taj Mahals?" Moira traced her fingers over the reddish stone wall.

"No, I didn't." The view distracted Paul from their other conversation.

"Well, the Shah Jahan built the white Taj Mahal as a resting place for his wife, and nearly bankrupted his Shahdom or whatever you call it. It's been described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love." She grinned at Paul. "Then he started to build an identical one, only in black marble, for himself. So his son had him imprisoned here for the rest of his life, looking out at the tomb of his beloved."

They came to a secluded grassy nook and sat down for a rest. The sun beat mercilessly down on them and Paul considered the possibility of both of them coming down with heat stroke.

" ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’." Moira brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. She'd braided her hair into one thick braid and pinned it up on her head to get it off her neck. Sweat glistened on her white shoulders.

"Well, I'm not English and it's not noon anymore but I know what you mean." Paul said. "I wonder if we should go check out one of the restaurants in those hotels, just to get out of the sun."

"You know, we have the driver until tomorrow. We could check into one of those hotels and see the Taj Mahal again at dawn, before going back up to Delhi." Moira leaned back on her elbows in the grass.

"We don't have a change of clothes." Paul did not like the idea of having to wear the sweat-soaked clothes he had on for the rest of the afternoon, much less having to put them back on tomorrow.

"Oh, we can give them to the Dhobi Wallah at the hotel, and they can have them back to us freshly laundered in the morning," Moira said, brightly. "Who needs clothes in the hotel room."

"Dhobi Wallah -- is that laundry service? What a brilliant idea! What are we waiting for?" Paul wondered if old Rajinder had used up his tank of gas running the air conditioner while he waited for them. They headed back down towards the car.

Rajinder was happy to drive them to a hotel for the night. It turned out he had family in Agra that he could stay with until the morning.

Paul chose the hotel with the most elegant exterior. It was fashioned after the Red Fort, with thick vines creeping down the brickwork of its facade. It turned out to be the most expensive of all the five-star hotels there, but Paul didn't care. If he couldn't buy Moira anything, at least he could give her the gift of a night in the best hotel in Agra.

"I reserved us the Moghul Chamber Exclusive," Paul told her as he walked away from the front desk. "It has the best view in the hotel."

"Well, let's go and peel out of these clothes. How about room service for dinner?" Moira took his arm as they entered the elevator.

"I'll give you room service." Paul said under his breath and they got on the elevator with a group of Japanese tourists.

Their room turned out to be a suite grand enough for the Shah Jahan himself, with a huge picture window overlooking the Taj and the Yamuna behind it. An overstuffed couch with silk cushions sat facing it, and Paul plopped himself down.

"I'm getting old," he groaned. "Every muscle in my body aches."

Moira came up behind him and started kneading his shoulders. "Well, you can call the concierge to send up a masseuse if you'd like," she said. "This place has everything you could dream of -- they're giving elephant and camel rides around the grounds, and they even have an in-house astrologer."

"Mmm. Forget the masseuse, nothing could feel as good as what you're doing to me right now." Paul flopped his head back so he could look up at her. "We could have our astrological charts done. We could see if we're star-crossed or soulmates or whatever."

Moira hesitated for a moment, and smiled down at him. "We don't need any charts to tell us that." She leaned down and kissed him. "Why don't we give our clothes to the Dhobi Wallah and go check out the Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom?"

With their clothes on the way to the laundry, Paul and Moira relaxed in a bathroom that was as regal as the suite itself. There were gold fixtures and pink tiles, plush burgundy towels, and a spa bathtub that looked like it could seat eight.

"You could swim in here." Paul plunged in. Moira slipped in beside him.

"Ooh. Nice and hot. Let's not do the air jets -- it makes the temperature drop." She lay back into the steaming bath.

Paul admired the way her breasts floated, nipples barely peeking out of the water. He noticed by the faucet a little wicker basket with complimentary shampoo and also a tiny bottle of bubble bath. He reached over and grabbed the bubble bath.

"No air jets, yes bubbles!" he exclaimed, and emptied the contents under the running water.

"Paul!" she squealed, "I think that stuff's concentrated!" A huge volume of foam appeared.

Soon white bubbles covered the whole surface of the tub six inches thick. Paul regretted adding the stuff; he couldn't see Moira's body in the water any more. Obligingly, she sat up, bubbles sliding off her wet skin, and slid over to him.

"Mm." She rubbed her body against his firmness. "I didn't think you could do that in hot water. Or is it cold water?"

"Moira, you could raise the dead in any temperature." Paul sputtered over the bubbles.

He slipped his arms around her and drew her close. The action squished the foam between them and set off little bubbles floating through the air. She giggled and buried her face in his neck. He had bubbles stuck to his beard, and made a mental note to shave the damn thing off. Then Moira started to massage his shoulder blades with her fingertips, each touch releasing little knots of tension from his tight muscles.

"Ahh, ahh," Paul moaned, torn between wanting to melt into the water and wanting to rise and take action. Her hands moved down to his lower back, where he hadn't even known he was tight. It felt odd to have all the muscles in his lower body relax -- except the six-inch one. She gripped his buttocks and kneaded them, but then her fingers crept around to the crack between them. That was invitation enough.

Paul grabbed Moira's waist and lifted her out of the water. She slid up the front of his body until her breasts were in his face.

"Dinner!" He ravenously began to suck one breast and then the other. Her hands clutched his shoulders for support, while her legs gripped his torso. She made little cooing sounds in her throat. He could feel her crotch, hot and wet, pressing against him, pushing into him as he stimulated her nipples with his hard tongue. She cried out with pleasure when he lowered her down on him. As entered her, her muscles gripped him, as if pulling him in. There was no stopping her then; she began to pulsate against him, driving herself into him over and over again. Paul found himself pinned against the edge of the tub while she satisfied her raging desire. As she began to climax, Paul felt himself drawn with her, his own passion surging as hers erupted. A few final thrusts and he joined her in ecstasy. A shuddering moment of paralysis; total release; and then they both melted into the steaming, sudsy water.

The sun was beginning to set when they came out of the bathroom wrapped in thick, burgundy bath towels. Through the picture windows they could see the white surface of the Taj Mahal tinged in pink. Even the air was a hazy pink, blurring the outlines of things. They sat on the couch, watching the colors change as the sun went down.

"You know, I've loved you from the moment I first saw you crossing the street in D.C. From before I'd even seen your face." Paul smiled at the memory.

"For me, it was my first kiss." Moira smiled nostalgically, also.

"Our first kiss? In Dumbarton Oaks?" Paul tried to recall Moira's reaction to his kissing her then.

Moira giggled girlishly. "It was a very good kiss."

Paul's heart contracted. He found himself asking, “Why me?"

"Why you what?" Moira nuzzled against him.

"Why me of all the men in the world?" He did not want to use a lot of words.

"Why me of all the women in the world?" He could feel her eyeing him quizzically.

"Why you? Moira, you are unlike any other woman I have ever met. It would be impossible not to fall in love with you. But me," Paul shrugged his shoulders. "I'm just a regular guy. Nothing special. Why would a woman like you even give me a second glance?"

Moira's jaw dropped open. "Paul, what a question!" She sat up straight. "You are not a regular guy to me." Her gaze took in all of him. "Besides being strong and tall and dashingly handsome” -- she smiled at the way she'd made him squirm -- "you are kind, and gentle, and big-hearted." Paul started to turn his head away in embarrassment, but she took his chin in her hand and made him look at her. "And the most wonderful lover." She softly kissed his lips. "You are definitely special." She kissed him again. "I love being with you. I love how I feel beside you. I love your energy." She looked towards the now bluish-purple Taj Mahal. "You are the only man I have ever loved and ever will love," she whispered as if confessing a deep, dark secret.

Paul wrapped his strong arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "And you are the only woman I have ever loved and ever will love," he vowed to her.

They had requested an early wake-up call, because Paul wanted to see the Taj Mahal one more time when it opened at 6:00 AM. There was one little problem: the Dhobi Wallah wouldn't be returning their clothes until 8:00 AM.

"We could wear the bed sheets," Moira joked. "If you wrap them the right way, they look like a traditional Indian woman's sari or man's dhoti."

Paul shook his head. "I don't think so. I could just see the whole thing dropping around my ankles if I so much as sneezed."

Moira gave him an admiring look. "Ooo. I'd like to see that."

"I'd like to see you wrapped up in one of these." He got out of bed and headed towards the bathroom.

"But seriously, could you call the Concierge and see what they can do about getting our clothes? I want to get to the Taj as early as possible."

"Can do," he heard her say as he shut the bathroom door behind himself.

Paul took a little longer with his morning ablutions as he had decided to use the complimentary plastic razor and shaving cream. Halfway through, he wondered if he should have warned Moira that he was going to shave off his beard. Then he wondered if he should at least have warned her that he was going to take so long in the bathroom. With his face half bare and half covered with shaving cream, he stuck his head out of the bathroom to tell her what he was doing. The room was empty.
"Moira?" He stepped into the room. Then he heard the door handle move and, being undressed, he stepped back behind the bathroom door, peeking out through the crack.

Moira came in, dressed in a pure gold sari and carrying some clothing. She was stunningly beautiful. The little gold shirt came down just below her breasts, baring her midriff, and her hips and legs were swaddled in yards and yards of shimmering spun gold, with one end swept up and over her shoulder. Her hair was in a thick braid down her back, and he noticed the color blended with her sari. Paul wanted to say something as she hadn't noticed him, but words wouldn't come out of his mouth. He noticed he was dripping shaving cream down his front onto the floor, so he ducked back into the bathroom and finished shaving as quickly as possible.

When he came out, he was surprised to see Moira sitting on the couch wrapped in the burgundy towel from last night. What had happened to the sari?

She looked up at him in surprise. "Your face! It's naked!"

Paul instinctively touched his own face. "Oh, uh, sorry -- I should have warned you. I just couldn't stand it anymore, with the heat and all. Does it look okay?"

"It looks very sexy." She walked over to him and touched his face. "I like it."

"Uh, speaking of naked -- " Paul began, looking down at her towel.

"Oh, our clothes aren't here yet. The concierge said he couldn't reach the Dhobi Wallah, but I managed to get him to send up these clothes from the gift shop in the lobby. It's not open yet, but they got these especially."

Paul looked down at the matching T shirt and shorts with the logo of the hotel on them. Two sets -- one for him and one for her. "Uh, they sent these up? But what about the sari?"

Moira gave him a shocked look. "What?"

In his head Paul heard Moira's voice from the other day, 'I will never lie to you, I will answer your questions as honestly as I can, but there are some things I'm ... not at liberty to answer'. Well, she'd better answer this question.

"I saw you come into the room wearing a sari, a gold sari. It looked exquisite -- where is it?" Paul demanded, looking around.

Moira looked around the room, not so much for the sari as for an answer. Then she looked back at him. "Are you sure you saw me wearing a sari?"

As she asked, doubt entered Paul's mind. "Well, yes, I think so." Or had it been some kind of vision? "I mean, I stuck my head out of the bathroom to tell you I was shaving off my beard. You weren't there, and then you came into the room wearing a sari. I'm sure I saw it, I mean, if I didn't see it, what did I see?" Now he was beginning to babble and doubt his sanity at the same time.

Moira reached up and smoothed his forehead and temple. The motion cleared away his concern for his sanity as well, and he felt oddly at peace inside, as if he'd accept any answer from her, however strange. Maybe he just dreamed her in a sari. Maybe she was wearing a sari and it disappeared. She smiled at him. "Maybe you saw me and maybe you didn't," she said softly. "Does it matter?”

Suddenly it didn't matter. It was just one of those mysteries about her that wasn't going to be answered, right away at least; one of those incidents with her that wasn't going to be explained. He had to file it in his mind under "acceptance", and let it go.

They both dressed in the tee shirts and shorts and got ready to go to the Taj Mahal.

"We look like the Bobsey Twins," Paul teased.

Moira responded, "Or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum."

When they got there, the gates had just opened and there were very few people about. It was magical, wandering through the gardens in the early morning mist. The Taj gave off a rosy aura as the first morning rays gently touched it.

Paul whispered to Moira, "This is Islamic, isn't it? So do they call their early morning prayers from those minarets?"

Moira shook her head. "The Taj Mahal can't be used as a mosque; it doesn't face Mecca."

Going inside was a completely different experience from the day before. With the building nearly empty, it was easier to study its graceful symmetry and beautiful inlaid patterns without any jostling or pushing. This time they were able to explore the other areas inside including the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife in the basement (as opposed to the false tombs in the main chamber). They found they were unable to go up any of the minarets, for bats congested the stairways. Paul and Moira wandered out onto the marble platform and around behind the Taj for a view of the Yamuna River. The atmosphere was one of total serenity, total peace.

Something happened to Paul as he stood there next to Moira at the base of the Taj Mahal, watching the Yamuna River and the countryside beyond slowly awaken in growing sunlight. It was hard to put into words; it was more of a spiritual feeling. He didn't think of it as enlightenment, for he didn't feel lighter. Quite the opposite: he felt more solid and more real. Perhaps it was an awakening, as he did feel fully awake and alert to his surroundings. It was as if he became aware of everything at once. The world around him seemed vibrantly alive -- even the trees and the marble beneath him. All things seemed clear and sharply defined. It wasn't the light; they were standing in the shadows and the mist was still rolling off the river. It seemed like more of an internal focus. He turned and looked at Moira, who simply stood there, with a slight smile on her lips, taking in the beauty of it all. She was there, really there. She was real. None of this was an illusion; it was all really happening. His whole body felt alive, as if he could feel every nerve ending, every molecule tingling. His bare feet were firm against the marble floor; he felt connected to it. He opened his mouth to speak, and then he felt light-headed, so much so that he thought he was going to fall over. Then Moira turned and put her hand on his shoulder, which immediately steadied him.

"Too much of a good thing, huh?" she asked, breaking the spell.

"Uh, yeah. You know, I just realized we skipped breakfast. Maybe I just need something to eat."

It was time to go. They returned to the hotel to pick up their clothes, grab a bite, and check out. There was much more to see in Agra, but Paul sensed the need to return to Delhi, so they hit the road.

It seemed to take more time going back to Delhi than it did coming to Agra. Perhaps the sights were no longer new. Paul's thoughts weren't on the countryside now; they were on work. More importantly, how to reschedule his work so that he could remain in India with Moira, for however long she was going to be there. After a while he had to give it up, because there were just so many conversations he could have in his head with Uncle Stephen, Michael and Francis. He couldn't predict how the office was doing in his absence, or what plans his Uncle had in mind for him. So he turned to Moira and asked her to elaborate on her ideas where to go next.

"Well, I'd like to take the train. It would be fun to try traveling by train in this country," she mused. "I'd really like to see Bombay, and the ocean, but the mountains are looking more and more appealing."

"You said something about a houseboat?"

"Yes, in Srinager, you can rent these beautiful houseboats to stay on Lake Dal, where they have the most wonderful floating gardens. But further north, there's this village called Pahalgam, and you can camp and go hiking..." her voice trailed away. "Remember hiking in the Olympics?"

Paul suddenly saw the mountain hot springs where they'd spent a leisurely afternoon. "Oh, yes, oh yes I do," he smiled nostalgically.

"So I don't have any firm plans yet. Maybe all the houseboats are booked; maybe the weather is too cold in October up there. I'm not going to make any decisions until you leave town."

"Well, I may not leave town," Paul said. "I'm going to see if I can wrangle a few extra days out of this trip. How long are you planning to be in India?"

Moira's smile brightened at the thought of Paul staying on then faded with his last question, shrugged her shoulders. "I don't really know."

"Would you be open to coming back to Seattle with me when you're done here?" A little seed of anxiety grew in his stomach. Don't say no!

Moira looked at him directly. Her eyes were bottomless pools. "There's nothing I would like to do more in the whole world than to go back to Seattle with you. But I'm afraid I'll probably be assigned somewhere else."

"Then do you have an address, some way I can keep in touch with you?" Paul fought to keep some future connection to her, and to the way he felt right now. "An APO, even a work number?"

She tenderly touched his newly shaven cheek. "Oh, Paul. All I can tell you is that you will meet me again, but that I can't stay in contact with you after we leave India."

"Are you married?" Paul bluntly grasped for a reason he could understand.

Her eyes widened in surprise and Paul immediately felt guilty for even suggesting it. Of course she wouldn't be married. She had many secrets to her, but none of them seemed dishonest. Besides, he didn't even want to consider that she could be married to anyone other than him. She shook her head no in response to his question, but it wasn't necessary.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I-- I guess I'll have to accept what little time I can have with you here, and have faith that we'll be together in the future." Paul's shoulders slumped.

She slid across the seat and rested against him. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. Well, he had her now, and probably for another week or two, if he could swing it. Instead of torturing himself with visions of returning alone to the States, he decided to concentrate on enjoying his time with her now, at this moment.

They arrived in at the Ashoka in Delhi shortly before lunch. Paul found a stack of messages waiting for him at the front desk: several from Michael, several from Francis, one from Mr. Chakawarti, and about fifty from Uncle Stephen. He heaved a deep sigh and went up to the room to return their calls.
"You have reached Marbanks Architects. Our office hours are from 8:30 am to 5:30 PM. If you know the extension of the person whom you wish to dial..."

"Shit. What time is it in San Francisco?" He started to hang up the phone.

"Hello, hello?" A voice cut in on the answering machine.

"Oh, hello. This is Paul Marbanks of the Seattle office, and I'm calling from India, so I have no idea what time it is there."

"Oh, hi, Paul. I'm Bob Seller, I met you before you left." Bob was one of Stephen's right hand men. "It's about eleven thirty at night here. I'm pulling an all-nighter trying to get caught up with the mess around here. You know, Stephen's in the hospital."

"No! I didn't, what happened? Was it the quake?" Paul exclaimed.

"Nah, it's surgery on his disc. But he's laid up there and we're all, well, running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We've had to send work up to Seattle, you know."

"Oh, yes, Michael said that would probably happen." Paul saw his extended stay in India evaporating. "Well, is there anything you can tell me regarding why my Uncle has left about fifty messages for me?"

The man chuckled, "Fifty sounds about par for Stephen. He probably wants to get you back here as soon as possible so he can send even more work up to Seattle."

"Is that necessary, or will you guys be able to handle things for a week or so?" Paul hoped he could postpone his own work that long.

"Ahhh, I can't say. I'm just digging out of the piles of paperwork on my own desk, and trying to reconstruct my hard drive. Sorry I can't help you."

"That's all right. I'll call Seattle. I hope I can get my Number One, er, main architect at home, and not at work."

"Good luck. Seattle's probably even busier than we are, since you guys are handling your own stuff and our extra stuff as well," Bob said, and they hung up.

Coral answered the phone when Paul called.

"Sorry to call so late, Coral. I hope I'm not waking you up. Is Michael there? I'm returning his calls."

"Oh, Paul, he's downstairs at the computer. He'll be so glad to hear from you!" He heard Coral put the phone down and then call down to her husband.

"Paul!" Michael came on the line. "Any way you can cut your trip short?"

Paul was taken aback. "Well, my flight leaves tomorrow. How much shorter do you want it?" Paul suddenly feared he'd have to leave that night.

"Nah, I guess that's soon enough. We're sinking, man. We need you bad. I'm an architect, not an administrator. I can't handle this shit. We have all these jobs coming in from California. At first they were only sending the international stuff. I can handle the international. But now we have this California stuff. There are only two guys in the office who know the building codes and regulations in California, and they're so busy answering everybody else's questions, they can't do their own work. It's a zoo." Michael stopped to take a breath.

"Okay, Michael, here's what you do. Until I get back, postpone all jobs that can wait a week, but make our own clients the priority. As far as California is concerned, I'm sure the clients there can understand the impact of the earthquake. But if there is stuff from there that can't wait, pull the California guys off their own projects; reassign the projects if you have to, and have them act as full-time consultants. How's that?"

"Perfect, man, just perfect," Michael sounded relieved.

"Now, I have messages here from Francis. Is she calling about the same thing? Do you know?"

"Probably. No, wait; she wanted to remind you something about your airline ticket. I can't remember what it is. Better call the airline, because she changed it, right?" Michael said.

"To Seattle instead of San Francisco, that's right. Oh, I’ll bet that changes my departure time. Well, I know my next call. Hang in there, Number One. I'll be back soon," Paul assured him, and put the receiver down.

Moira lay on the bed opposite him, watching him with a sad smile on her face.

Paul looked at her and sighed. "Well, I guess it's just not meant to be." He couldn't face another phone call at that moment. He crawled across the bed and rested his face in her stomach. She stroked his hair. The phone rang.

"I'll get it." She picked up the receiver. "Hello, yes, er, this is Mrs. Marbanks. Oh, Mrs. Chakawarti, how lovely to speak to you. Yes, dinner tonight? I'm sure that would be delightful. I'll talk to my … husband. Yes, we just got back from Agra... Oh, it was magnificent. Thank you for the generous loan of your driver... Yes, we just picked up our messages and there's one here from your husband…? Oh, he was calling about dinner so there's no need to call back... Yes, you'll send Rajinder at 6:30? Thank you, we're looking forward to it. We'll see you tonight." She hung up the phone. "Paul, we're going to have a home-cooked Indian dinner at the Chakawarti's."

"Great," grumbled Paul, his face still in her stomach. He wanted to hide there and hope that all the business troubles would magically disappear.

"Paul. Call the airlines. It would help to know exactly how much time we have left together so we can spend it enjoyably, and not moping." Moira sounded gentle, but firm.

Like a schoolboy ordered to do homework, Paul pulled himself up, grabbed his ticket from his jacket pocket, and called the local number printed on it.

"Hello, I'd like to confirm my flight out from Delhi to Seattle tomorrow morning. Paul Marbanks... Yes, it was changed from San Francisco to Seattle. Does that change the departure time?… Oh, one thirty. One thirty in the afternoon?… What? One thirty in the morning? What time to I have to be at the airport?… Two hours for international travel? Are there any other flights?… Only 11:55 PM tonight or tomorrow night? No, no I guess not." Paul hung up the phone.

Moira sighed and crossed her arms across her chest. "One thirty in the morning, huh? I should have known."

Paul looked at her. "Any way we could skip the Chakawarti's?"

Moira shook her head. "I wouldn't recommend it. That would be extremely rude, after they've loaned us their driver for most of our trip. Let's just get you packed, and make the best of it. We have six, no five hours before Rajinder picks us up."

Paul was in shock. He thought he'd have one more day with Moira, but now it was a just few more hours. He felt like a man given a five to live. How do you make the most of five hours, without obsessing about the hours to come after that?

Moira put her arms around him and held him.

"How can I do this, Moira? How can I get on a plane and leave you behind?" His voice filled with agony.

Moira said nothing, but began to gently rock him, and gave his head little kisses. Paul complied for a little while, but then rose up with all his strength. He pushed her down onto the bed and rolled on top of her. He kissed her hard and full on the mouth. He found her yielding and open to him. All his frustration, all his anxiety came erupting to the surface, and he poured it into crude kisses and groping. Moira received his tormented passion willingly, seeming not to absorb his pain and rage, but letting it pass through her. Amazingly, his roughness aroused her quickly, and she came the moment he entered her. Her rapturous cries surprisingly soothed his own anguish, and he found in his own orgasm an emotional release. They lay quietly for a while, Moira shivering under him with little spasms as she finished.

"Are ... you okay?" Paul worried that he'd hurt her in some way.

"No, no, just ... aftershocks." Moira whispered blissfully.

Paul propped himself up on his elbows and looked down at her. Her cheeks were glowing and a rosy pink flush spread across her chest. "I was afraid I was being too rough."

"God, no. That was -- mind-blowing. The earth moved," she laughed weakly. "What a going-away gift to give a girl."

"Well, I'll see if I can give you a few more. Heck, we have hours until dinner!" Paul lay down beside her.

"If I survive until dinner. I don't know if I could handle any more 'little deaths' like the last one." Moira laughed, curling up next to him.

"But what a way to go." Paul kissed her.

The Chakawarti's lived in the exclusive section of Haus Kaus. It was an enclave of large houses, each surrounded by six foot brick walls. A chowkidar, security guard, met them at the gate. The house was white stucco, with pink trim and a pink tile roof. A small pond crossed by bridge was beside the patio. The sweeper bearer met them at the door, and showed them in to the main room where Sahib Chakawarti and Mem Sahib were sitting.

"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Marbanks, I am so pleased you are able to come to our humble home," Mr. Chakawarti said. "I understand that you have a departing flight very early tomorrow morning, so I will make sure that Rajinder takes you back to your hotel with good timing." He shook Paul's hand warmly. "May I present to you Mrs. Anjuli Chakawarti, my wife?"

Mrs. Chakawarti was a foot shorter than her husband, and a foot wider, too. "We are so terribly pleased to have you both here. My husband has been telling me all about you. Especially you, Mrs. Marbanks, you have made quite an impression on him."

"Please, call me Moira," Moira shook her hand warmly. "What a lovely home you have here. Is this where you raised your sons?"

"And are still raising them," Mrs. Chakawarti replied. "Besides the boys you already met who are in business with their father, and our daughters in the United States, we have six other children still in school. Let me present them." She clapped her hands and the sweeper bearer appeared. "Tell the Ayah to show in the children."

A capable, middle-aged woman in a white sari appeared. There were six children ranging from four to fourteen following her. All were clean and neatly dressed. The boys wore blue shorts or trousers, depending on their age, with white button-up shirts. The girls had on tight cotton leggings under knee-length cotton dresses with three quarter-length sleeves, each with a light, gauzy scarf across her neck. They bowed politely and, given permission to play outside, scampered away with the Ayah hurrying after them. Mr. Chakawarti took Paul aside to show him the books in his library, while Moira joined Mrs. Chakawarti at the window, watching the children play.

"Quite a handful," Moira observed.

Mrs. Chakawarti laughed. "Oh, yes, my children have a lot of spunk. This is the fourth Ayah they've been through this year. They just wear them out, my dear."

Paul stood by Mr. Chakawarti while he showed off his extensive library, straining to hear what Moira and Mrs. Chakawarti were talking about in the other room. It seemed to be child rearing. Paul wanted to know what Moira knew or thought on the subject far more than he wanted to hear about Mr. Chakawarti's complete works and first editions. Then another servant, the Bearer (apparently a step up from the sweeper bearer) appeared and relayed the message that Cook announced dinner was served.

The Chakawartis and Paul and Moira went into the dining room, where the table was set for eight. The younger children had already finished their tea, really an early dinner, and were being sent off to bed. The ones older than ten were permitted to dine with the guests.

Dinner was an amazing experience. Dish after dish was set upon the table, a mingling of scents and visual delights. The children dutifully spoke when spoken to, showing off a remarkable amount of knowledge in response to their parents' specific questions. Paul asked a question directly to the oldest daughter, who blushed and looked down, while her brother piped up an answer. The parents seemed pleased. Moira complimented Mrs. Chakawarti on the menu, and she flushed with pride.
Paul looked at the Indian family, and everything seemed so… orderly. All the children well-behaved, each one having their place in the family and acting within expectations. The parents were appropriately proud, and the children appropriately happy. He thought of his own childhood, where his father dominated the dinner table, firing questions to the kids to see if they were listening. His sister Susan always knew the answers, and Paul was always daydreaming. He looked at Moira. What would it have been like, if they had been together all this time? Would they have six children? Would they be happy?

He caught himself on that last train of thought. Six children?!?! What a ridiculous idea. Then Mr. Chakawarti caught his attention with questions about business, and Paul pushed the thought away.
The evening ended very pleasantly, with Paul realizing that the dinner had been an astute political move. He had unconsciously said several complimentary things about his uncle and the business, and could see Mr. Chakawarti now considered Marbanks Architects a solid associate to his company.

As Rajinder drove them to the hotel, Paul asked Moira a question.

"When I used the rest room by the front door, I noticed it had an extra door to the outside itself. Why is that?" He was so tired, having been up before dawn and with the drive back from Agra (not to mention the afternoon's exercise) he couldn't believe he was even interested.

"Oh, that's from the days when the Untouchables cleaned the toilets. The Untouchable caste couldn't enter through the front door and interact with the other servants, so they had to have separate doors for the toilets. I think." Moira said.

They got to the hotel in time for Paul to pick up his bags and catch a cab to the airport. He quickly dismissed the thought of having Moira come with him to see him off. He didn't like the idea of leaving her in the airport at one-thirty in the morning. They stood on the steps of the Ashoka to say good-bye.

Paul thought his heart would break. He could not be doing this, and yet he was. He was the one who was leaving now, not her. He had so much he wanted to say; where could he begin?

"I hate leaving you like this. We're just getting to know each other again. I wish there were some way we could have a normal relationship." Paul stopped himself in frustration.

"I wish we could, too, Paul darling. It just doesn't seem meant to be." Moira's eyes echoed his own pain.

"I remember my Aunt Sarah telling me once that life doesn't happen according to our personal plan; that a power greater than ourselves calls the shots. At the time I was still living in D.C. and very anti-religious, so I dismissed what she said as being `Californian,'" Paul's smile was more like a grimace. "Maybe India has gotten to me, but I'm beginning to understand what she meant. Do you think some higher power is behind all this, and that the timing of us being together is out of our hands?"

Moira smiled at him. "I know that all things occur according to a higher plan, which I'm not always aware of. And I accept that, if we are meant to be together, we will be together. Unfortunately, neither you nor I get to control the timing.”

The cab driver coughed noisily and looked at his watch.

"Well, I guess this is good-bye," Paul felt his heart sinking in despair.

"Until we meet again." Moira kissed him.

Until we meet again. Until we meet again. Until we meet again. The words echoed in his head all the way to the airport.


*****MOIRA'S TRANSMISSION********************************************


Thank you for this assignment. I am so grateful for this experience! Now I see that my previous 'overstays' were all part of the Infinite Plan. I wish I had known how to compensate for the imbalance in Nature before. I am learning and understanding Unconditional Love and Acceptance. I await my next assignment.


Dear One:
You are most welcome. Be aware of time and space when dealing with linear Human Beings. Their bodies do not adjust to change as rapidly as yours. Sometimes Nature's imbalance does not require compensation, although it was beneficial during this instance. Go in peace.

About the Author
Joan M. McCabe, CPC is a professional life coach, ordained minister, accredited Transformation Game® workshop facilitator and Living Your Vision® coach. She has over twenty years' professional experience in the spiritual and personal growth field. As a coach, Joan assists clients with living the life that makes their heart sing. With Living Your Vision®, clients discover their inner vision and life purpose, and create a Master Plan for success and fulfillment in all areas of their lives! Joan offers Customized Transformation Games® specifically designed for small groups of up to five people to discover intuitive solutions to life issues. Ordained in 1983, Joan performs weddings and commitment ceremonies throughout the Puget Sound. And there's even more! Joan is also the author of Tapestry of Time Trilogy -- if you enjoyed this chapter, check back next month for the next installment!!! For more about Joan, go to www.jmmccabe.com