New Zealand (Working Title)

A slight breeze carried leaves down the street - drifting in from the ocean it was cool and left a hint of salt in the air. I stopped where I was right there on the sidewalk, letting the breeze tug at my hair, and invigorate my senses. I had decided to spend the day walking around the small city of Napier - taking in the beautiful architecture. I was going to have my dinner at a small restaurant with an ocean view - and at sunset, I planned to walk the beach barefooted and play chase with the surf.

A dream finally come to fruition, I’d only been in New Zealand three weeks. I was in love with it the second I stepped from the plane. The clean, clear air that I took into my lungs as I walked off of the jet had almost hurt. Never had I inhaled such pure air. All of my life I’d yearned to travel to "paradise on Earth" - the little, quiet continent of New Zealand. Finally, at the age of forty, I had the resources, and time, to do just that. Having just finished my second book - I was taking a well-needed vacation. A year here had been the plan - but I knew now I’d never leave. The leisure of having a job that I could "take with me" where ever I decided to go was quite the blessing. For now, I was traveling the country - seeing the differing landscapes, staying in lovely hotels and bed and breakfasts - lazily strolling along as the usual tourist. But, this tourist had a method to her madness - this tourist was looking for a place to settle. I was determined to see all the islands had to offer before I chose just one spot.

It was with this these happy thoughts that I sat myself at a street café in Napier, preparing to have my afternoon tea and read a magazine I’d just purchased. I’d only been there about 10 minutes - just enough time to order my tea and read exactly one paragraph of an article when a shadow loomed over my table. I glanced up to see a man I did not know standing there - as if waiting to sit down.

"May I help you?" I asked, curious. I wasn’t afraid. This was Napier! Crime did not happen in the streets in broad daylight. Another reason I knew I could never leave, I checked off in my head.

"If you don’t mind, madam," he began with a thick British accent, "may I please sit with you for a moment?"

I smiled. The company would be nice - and I had a thing for European accents. Even if I understood nothing he said - or cared about nothing he said - I would still enjoy hearing him speak. "Please do," I answered, gesturing to the chair across from me.

He did so, and paused for a moment while he looked at me very intensely. I was puzzled by this odd stare, but thought nothing more of it. Customs were different here, and I certainly hadn’t been around long enough to know them all.

"Yes," he said, finally. "I believe I have the right person."

I laughed, then, for I believed he was about to ask me to be in a movie or something similar. "Right person for what?" I said, still giggling to myself.

"You are Ms. Angelia Randel, correct?"

At first, I was taken aback. How would this man know my name?! But I remembered, I was a well-known author now back in the States. Perhaps he’d seen me on the back covers of my first book. The second one had not even been published yet. Still, I’d not known I had any fans in New Zealand. He mistook my silence for shock, and went on.

"Collen by birth? You are from the United States; Louisiana? "

I nodded. "How do you know all of this about me?" I was beginning to feel a little confused. My pen name was Randel - how would he know me as Collen? But with the Internet these days, one could find out anything. I was beginning to wonder if he was a rabid fan.

"You read my book," I stated, answering my own question.

He seemed puzzled, and shook his head. "What book, madam?"

I frowned at him, "My book - the one I wrote."

"I’m sorry," he said, sincerely. "I did not know you were an author."

"How do you know all of these things about me, then? Who are you??"

The waitress arrived with my tea, and promptly left. I was wishing she’d stayed. Besides an old woman two tables away, we were the only ones out here. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"I’m sorry I have confused you. Let me explain," he said, giving me a smile. "I work for a person that wishes to meet you. It would seem that while out driving yesterday, he saw you here in town."

"What?" was about all I could manage. This made no sense.

He continued on, as if he hadn’t heard me, "He would like it if you would allow me to escort you to his estate for dinner this evening. If it pleases you?"

I shook my head, "Wait - I don’t understand this. Why couldn’t he come and ask me this himself?"

"My boss is a very private person, madam," he said, gravely. "He would be much more comfortable if you would come to him. He apologizes for the seeming absurdity of it all. He will explain more, I’m sure, this evening to you."

I thought for a moment. My head said, "Hell no", but the rest of me thought it sounded awfully exciting - maybe even romantic. It also sounded crazy. Who was this "private" man who sent a stranger to whisk me away to his home for dinner. It sounded like the kind of plot that ends up with me being the dinner!

"I’m sorry," I said. "I just can’t. Please tell your boss that I sincerely appreciate the offer - but it is a little disconcerting."

He held up a hand. "Say no more, madam. I completely understand, as does my boss. He thought you might feel that way. Agreed, it is a peculiar situation."

I nodded. "Indeed." I saw the waitress and waved a hand at her. I was done with my tea, and was thinking of returning to my room for a nap before my special evening alone.

She walked up, and the gentleman pulled out a wallet, "How much?" he asked.

"No, no," I interjected. "Please - I can get it."

"I insist," he said, handing the waitress the money. "My boss had asked me to pay for your lunch. Since you are only having tea, that will have to suffice."

I stood, as did he. "Thank you," I said, awkwardly shaking his hand. How does one end such a strange meeting? "And tell your boss thank you - for the invite and the tea."

"I will," he said, smiling at me again.

I turned and began to walk to my hotel. It was only two blocks away. What a strange thing to happen, I thought to myself. Where had this mysterious man seen me, and who was he? I was lost in my reverie and almost passed up my small hotel, across the street from the beach. Being in the sun all day had always drained me. I made my way to my second floor room and took off my shoes, rubbing my feet. I stretched leisurely on the bed and was asleep within minutes.

When I awoke again I realized the sun was fading from the sky! I jumped up, threw on my sandals, and literally ran from the hotel to the beach across the street. I had almost missed the sunset! I stayed there until two hours after dark, walking the beach, and playing in the rising waters. I felt good as I padded back to the lobby of the hotel.

"Ma’am?" I heard ring out from the front desk.

I walked over, noticing the sweet smell of roses and marveled at how everything in this country seemed more real, vibrant and alive. The huge bouquet of roses sat in a large vase on the center of the front desk, and I was about to ask the clerk where I could find such lovely-smelling, huge red roses when she spoke up. "Those are for you," she said, smiling at me with curiosity twinkling in her eyes. "They are beautiful! Someone must care for you very much."

I looked from the roses to her. "Who brought these?" I asked.

"A floral place delivered them just after you left," she answered. "Lucky you! I’ve been enjoying their scent all evening."

Not wanting to dash her curious joy at my confusion, I pulled one of them and handed it to her. "Here’s so you can smell it all night long," I told her.

She beamed at me, with a very sincere "Thank you."

I barely could bring the heavy vase upstairs with me. I set it down loudly on the dresser - relieved to be rid of the weight. I looked all over, but there was no card.

Who would’ve sent me flowers? I picked up the phone and called my few close friends - none of them had done so. I called my agent. He laughed, saying I must have a fan in New Zealand. It wasn’t him.

Perplexed, I hung up the phone and stared at the flowers. I suddenly remembered my strange meeting at the café that afternoon. I’d forgotten all about it in my haste to catch the sunset and play with the ocean. Could these flowers be from the mysterious man? And if so, how in the heck did he know what hotel I was staying at?! And why did he want to meet me so badly?

I stayed up most of the night watching TV, and drifted off in the pre-dawn hours. It was 11:00 a.m. before I woke again. I took a shower and went out to get something to eat. I was starving.

"Ma’am," I heard as I came down the stairs. A new clerk was working this morning; a young man.

"Yes?" I asked.

"A gentleman called here earlier and left a message for you. He did not want to call your room and disturb you. I wrote it down."

He handed me a note on which he’d scrawled the time, 10:00 a.m., and the message ‘The Oceanside Restaurant is one of the finest in town. You must try it. Please enjoy lunch there - my treat. Your reservation is for 12:30.’

I looked at the young clerk, "Who left this?"

"He didn’t leave his name, ma’am. He requested I write that exactly down - even made me read it back to him. You’d better hurry - it’s close to 12:00 already."

"What kind of a restaurant is this?" I asked. Sure, I’d go - just to see if reservations had really been made. And if they had, free lunch is never a bad thing.

The clerk laughed, "I’d never be able to eat there on my salary. It’s one of the most expensive restaurants in town, actually. You won’t be able to go dressed like that," he said, looking at my tank top and shorts.

"I’d better hurry, then," I said, charging back up the stairs.

I found my favorite long, black skirt and put on a blood-red, silk blouse I’d bought the other day. I quickly pulled my hair up into a fancy-messy bun, did my make-up and added the final touch - little tear-drop earrings. I rushed back down the stairs.

"How’s this?" I asked, the clerk.

He glanced me up and down, "Perfect. You got ready awfully fast!"

I laughed, "I can get ready in 5-10 minutes, flat. Thanks for your help."

He nodded, "We like to help out you confused Americans while you visit our strange country."

I had to smile back at him - I’d gotten used to the good-natured kidding New Zealanders gave to Americans.

"Have fun!" he yelled after me, as I hurried out the door. It was noon.

I hailed a cab and was whisked away to the Oceanside Restaurant. Feeling a bit apprehensive, I walked in to what was obviously a very fancy eatery and stammered that I had a reservation.

"Under what name?" the maitre de asked.

I hesitated. "Angelia Randel," I answered, hoping that was right.

It was. I was led to the back corner, cozy enough. I could only fathom that this was the same man who’d requested my presence at his "estate", who’d sent me a dozen red roses last night, and was now buying me lunch in very expensive restaurant. Who was this man? I was beginning to wish I’d gone with the man from the café yesterday. Surely someone who wanted to hurt me wouldn’t be going so out of his way to impress me.

After one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, and two-more-than-I-should’ve-had glasses of delicious Cabernet, I was waiting for dessert and the man from the café stood at the end of my table again.

"Oh!" I said, surprised to see him standing there again; especially when I hadn’t seen him walk up.

"May I?" he asked, looking at the seat.

I nodded, "Please."

"My boss would like to make sure that everything was to your liking."

"If you mean this lunch, it was superb. Tell him thank you very much," I answered.

"And the roses? Did you get them?"

"Yes - they were beautiful. Please - tell me what in the world is going on," I said, ready to end the mystery. It was just too strange.

The man shook his head, "I’m not sure exactly - I am simply doing as he requests. I don’t question him as to his actions."

"You’re a big help," I snapped. The wine was making my head swim.

"I’m sorry, madam. I know only that my boss would like for you to come to his home - and have dinner."

"I can’t even think about eating right now." I sighed. "What happens if I say yes?"

The man beamed. "Someone will pick you up at your hotel at 7 p.m."

I thought about it - oh, why the hell not? By this time my curiosity was 100% piqued. I had to meet this man, whoever he was. I had to know what was going on. "I’ll see you at 7, then," I said, standing to go.

"Indeed - he will be most pleased that you chose to accept."

7:00 pm

After the wine wore off and the headache set in, I began to regret my decision. I couldn’t believe I’d agreed to go. While I was completely curious as to who my recent benefactor was I couldn’t shake the nagging horror-movie feeling that I was going to be killed before the night was over. I argued with myself that this was crazy - but so were the events that had led me to be sitting in my hotel lobby waiting for an unknown person to take me to an unknown place to meet yet another unknown person.

After a nap, the headache had gone. Unsure what was appropriate dress for such an odd "date", I chose a pretty, white sundress I’d bought when I first arrived in New Zealand. It was comfortable, but still nice enough to be casually formal - and it flattered my figure well. Again, I’d put my hair up - my favorite thing to do with it - and let a few pieces hang down. I put on my lucky Irish bracelet and a comfortable pair of tan sandals. Now I sat here waiting. The young clerk I’d given the rose to was back this evening.

"You going to meet the gentleman who sent the roses?" she asked, giggling.

I nodded. "Yes - meet is the operative word."

"You don’t know him?" she asked, eyes going wide.

I shook my head.

"How romantic!" she swooned.

"I’m glad you think so," I said, sighing. "I feel ridiculous. He could be a madman!"

She laughed, "That madman has a good taste in flowers. I wouldn’t be worried about that, if I were you," she said.

The phone rang, and she went to answer it. Outside I heard a door slam, and when I looked up was shocked to see a black limo parked at the curb. The British man I’d been talking to for the past two days walked in.

"Are you ready, madam?" he asked.

I stood, "As ready as I’ll ever be."

"Good luck!" the clerk called after me as I stepped out the door. I hoped I wouldn’t need it.

The inside of the limo was lovely. I settled down in soft seats and the man offered me a drink. I figured it would help loosen my nerves, so I took a glass of wine. It was a long drive - longer than I expected. We’d been on the road for 45 minutes when I realized we were stopping. The door next to me opened, and a hand appeared to help me out.

I stepped out and found myself standing in front of gorgeous house - it was near all windows and appeared to be sitting on the edge of a large hill. From close below I could hear the crash of the ocean waves. I sucked in my breath. "I think I’m under-dressed," I told the Brit.

"No, madam. You look lovely. Please, follow me."

We walked along a winding little path that led to massive, glass doors. The entry hall was huge - and we walked to a large room on the right. The entire back wall was, also, glass and when I walked up to them I could see the ocean raging just below. From the look of the furniture, this was a sitting room of sorts.

"If you’ll excuse me, now," he told me. "Your host will be with you shortly. Please, make yourself at home - pour a drink from the bar, if you will."

He stepped out, pulling silent sliding doors closed behind him. I turned back to the window. If I was going to die, at least it was going to be in style. I had to admit that I was quite nervous, and as was my custom, could not stop myself from shaking slightly. I clasped my hands together to try and steady them. I was so busy worrying about being nervous and shaking like a fool that I never heard the doors slide back open behind me.

"I knew that you would come," a male voice came from behind me.

My first instinct was to spin around and end this mystery once and for all - but the next thought froze me where I stood. I knew that voice. But, I had to be wrong. I couldn’t be hearing what I thought I was.

"I’m sorry if I bothered you," the voice went on. "I’m afraid these precautions were necessary."

The more he spoke the more I thought I was going to pass out as I stood there. My face got hot, my heart was beating a million miles a minute and the hairs on my neck and arms were standing straight on end. Only one person could that voice belong to - and he had disappeared over 15 years ago.

Slowly, I turned - unsure whether I wanted it to be him standing there or not. It really couldn’t be. The lights were low in this large room, only one lamp gave off any luminescence. I turned around to face this person - and grabbed the back of a large chair that was now in front of me to hold myself from falling. Even in low light, there was no mistaking his identity. One does not forget the love of their life.

My hand went to my mouth - to cover a gasp or maybe because I suddenly felt like I might be sick. I didn’t know what to say, or if I could even form words for that matter. I was in shock.

He took a few steps more into the room, closer to the lamp. I knew that face - even after so many years, I knew that face.

"Hi," he said, simply. I tried to read what was in his eyes - I used to always be able to tell. He seemed to have his protective cover over them, but I saw something else - a pleading, an unsurety.

I shook my head, my hand still over my mouth.

"Why.." I started, and had to stop. I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. "Why have you brought me here?"

For the briefest of moments it looked like he might cry, but his face quickly regained its composure. "It’s been so long since I’ve heard your voice," he said. "I saw you, the other day, in Napier. At first, I wasn’t sure - but then I knew it was you. I wanted to go and talk to you then, but I don’t get out of the car in town."

"I thought you might be dead," I said, quietly.

He gave me a half-smile, "Well, I guess it worked, then."

I bit my lip, "You never came for me."

"I could not."

I became angry suddenly, "Then why didn’t you leave me alone?!" I almost yelled at him. "I was doing fine - I’d made myself forget us, and learn to live without you! Why are you doing this?"

Sadness washed over him - his face dropped. "I couldn’t help myself - seeing you the other day. I had to see you again."

"I wish you had left me alone," I snapped. I don’t know why I was so angry. This whole thing was a tad overwhelming. He had gotten away fifteen years ago, and all anyone could ever find of him had convinced them he had died in his mission. I couldn’t believe it, and had spent many of those years looking over my shoulder - waiting for him to return to me. I had, eventually resigned myself to the fact that he was gone - maybe not even dead - but gone just the same, forever. It had become, now, that he was dead to me. In this moment, it seemed that all of the pains those years had caused - waiting, not knowing, missing him - had been re-opened. I felt things I had not allowed myself to feel in years.

"Please," he said, softly. "Don’t be angry with me. You must understand..."

I shook my head and waved my hand, as if to wipe away the words. "It doesn’t matter. I don’t care - I don’t want to hear it. You have done what you needed to do. I can accept that."

"I have thought about you every day for the last fifteen years," he said, looking towards the floor.

I didn’t answer him; I couldn’t. I felt a tear roll down my cheek. He walked towards me until he was standing just a few feet away. He had his hands clenched at his sides, as if he was unsure what to do with them. I knew he wanted to touch me - I could feel it. It was all coming back - things I’d long buried. Our connection - the ability to know what the other was thinking and feeling. I looked at him, and our eyes locked.

It was hard to remain angry with him standing so close, looking into eyes I’d wanted to see for so long, peering at that face I had loved so and missed more. Despite my protests inside my head, I could not help but reach out and place my palm against his cheek. His eyes closed, and he sighed as he leaned his face into my hand. I saw a silent tear run down his cheek, and then choked on my own. He opened his eyes and looked at me again, that questioning-pleading look in his eyes and I fell into his arms. We stood this way for what seemed like forever, crying and repeating, "I missed you" over and over.

After this, an awkward silence filled the room. He took my hand and led me to the couch where we both sat close to one another. He took both of my hands in his own and told me a little about where he’d been, what he’d been doing - and why his past, and his present profession, kept him a very private man who very few people knew. This was all so much to take in. He told me that he’d read my book, and loved it. He had been surprised to see me in New Zealand - and had debated on whether he would even contact me. He said he’d had no choice, in the end.

"So, what now?" I asked after he’d finished telling me everything. We’d been sitting there for near two hours, and I hadn’t said a word. I smiled, remembering it had been one of our on-going arguments - his ability to talk for hours on end that had overrode the same ability in me, and aggravated me endlessly.

"Stay with me for awhile," he said, hope in his voice. "Please."

"I might be willing to do that," I said, nodding. "But then what? I am an author - a public figure. I have fans, family and friends. I can’t exactly keep it a secret that I’m with you again. And I don’t see that as being conducive to your privacy."

He takes a deep breath, "At the right time, that is a decision that you will have to make. If you want to stay with me - we can arrange that. But you will have to leave all of that behind. If you choose to go, that is alright, too. I trust you will keep our meeting a secret. But you must not return."