In the Shadow of Fate by Susan Haught

RYLEIGH RELEASED A long breath and straightened her legs. The journal tumbled to her lap.

Natalie turned to her. “What’s this?”

She swiped a hand across the journal’s cover and then wiped them on her jeans. “An old journal,” Ryleigh said, brushing away the dusty handprint.
In the Shadow of Fate
In the Shadow of Fate by Susan Haught
“Don’t just sit there fondling it, open it.” The binding creaked. Timeworn pages fanned in a graceful arch as if her touch had resurrected them. Faded ink swirled across the unlined parchment, and the musty balm of old paper and ink tapped at a recollection, distant and unformed, yet ripe for picking—but she couldn’t pluck it from her memory. Smudged and watermarked, the words danced across the aged pages. She turned each one with care. Nat leaned in. “Well?” Ryleigh frowned. “Looks like a collection of poetry.” “I didn’t know your mother wrote poetry.” “This isn’t her handwriting,” Ryleigh responded without thought, “and my mother never wrote anything more literary than a grocery list.” Natalie peered over her shoulder. “Then whose?” “Don’t know. Just an ‘R’ at the end of the entries.” The pages crackled as Ryleigh turned each one. “And the year. ’66. ’67 on some.” A shiver feathered its way from her neck to the tips of her fingers. —from Chapter One ~ A Promise of Fireflies: THE FIRST TIME I read the entries in the journal, I felt as if I’d stumbled upon something I should remember, but couldn’t quite make any sort of connection. I’ve always loved the rhythm of poetry and the images it creates in my mind. The words are clothed in an elegant cadence and the artistry of color, space, and time. They speak directly to my heart. For me, poetry speaks a different language. Most people think poetry is simply odd. Natalie thinks so—she says I’m a little weird. Perhaps she’s right. ~Ryleigh You’re the wind wings of butterfly tickle of hair an angel’s sigh. * * * You’re the rain tears from above comfort of warmth an angel’s love. * * * You’re the music laughter sung near melody of words an angel’s whisper. * * * You’re the sunlight blue skies blessed twilight of evening an angel’s caress. * * * You’re the rainbow an arc gentile shines joyful colors my angel’s smile. ~R~ ’66 * * * IT’S A BIT strange to think of my mother as someone’s angel, especially when I think about how young she and Ryan were at the time this was written. Now that Mom is gone, she truly is an angel—the angel on my shoulder. One I miss more than I ever imagined. I love you, Mom. Always. ~Ryleigh Across the Milky Way WHEN AMBROSE SHARED Ryan’s story, I couldn’t imagine my mother with anyone but Ben, the only father I’ve ever known. But Ryan’s words tell a different story. Ryan’s love for my mother bleeds through his words. His thoughts curl up and take hold inside me as if he’d written them for me to truly see the beauty that is my mother. You didn’t have to, Ryan. Her beauty radiated from her, inside and out, and I miss her so very much. Ryan loved my mother deeply. So did I. ~ Ryleigh Like stars scattered across the Milky Way your smile brightens the deepest night— Embers of fire know no more warmth and your kiss the whisper of a butterfly. * * * Like fingers that strum a joyful melody your laughter echoes in a chorus of song— A rainbow’s arc knows no more splendor and your eyes are where the skies belong. * * * Like a candle’s halo burning strong your skin glows in pearls of gold— A night of dreams knows no more pleasure and in your arms, daydreams are sowed. * * * Like raindrops that tap a restful rhythm you silence the earth with your voice— A blind touch knows no more tenderness and so to love you, I have no choice. * * * Ever the stars shimmer across the Milky Way your hand ever mine through endless dreams— Ever shall your eyes smile when I close mine ever our paths remain one upon golden moonbeams. ~ R~ ’66 Fireflies THE NEXT ENTRIES in the journal cause me to pause and take notice of the simple things around us. Spectacular things take place right before our eyes—things we take for granted—and are worthy of remembrance. God’s miracles as Logan would say. Those things we choose to pin to our memory so if struck by blindness, those memories remain alive in our mind’s eye to recall at will. Fireflies are one of those tiny miracles that will forever hold a place in my heart, the treasured place where love resides and grows, and the special corner where promises are kept. ~ Ryleigh Fireflies flicker against azure skies frolicking hither in reverent riverdance— Stars like diamonds shine in your eyes pulling me deeper into twilight’s trance. * * * Fireflies meander amongst the reeds dancing to a secret lover’s song— Silken strands shine golden in your hair images of comfort when you are gone. * * * Fireflies glow, then fade in the mist hidden ’neath a blanket of summer rain— Smile of an angel halos your face lighting my world till I see you again. * * * Fireflies hover beyond fingertip’s reach elusive of capture they flutter and sway— So close I can feel them, as I feel you your tender embrace, though miles away. * * * Fireflies wink, their trails grow dim twilight deepens, final glorious flight— Sounds of silence, melody of song fireflies’ last dance, a farewell goodnight. ~R~ ’66 Beside You MY SON, EVAN, noticed the disquiet in this verse before I did even though I’d read it several times before. Perhaps because of Ryan’s hesitance to fully grasp leaving Ellie, he wanted her to know he would always be there beside her—on the wings of the breeze, in the cool quiet of a rainy day, or in the choir of the birds. His presence was beside her everywhere and in everything around her. ~Ryleigh When raindrops dance upon your windowpane or turn to a blanket of new-fallen snow, and transforms the earth to tranquil hill and vale I’m there beside you, as stillness quietly grows. * * * When a seedling emerges with the first breath of spring or trees once barren burst forth in budding grace, and the breeze wafts warmly against your skin I’m there beside you, in subtle embrace. * * * When you hear the symphony of summer birds or listen for the flutter of butterfly wings, and hear the harmony of a wind chime’s notes I’m there beside you, as the soft breeze sings. * * * When the wind whispers and gently graces your cheek or swirls golden autumn leaves upon the ground, and chases away sunlight to hide in the dusk I’m there beside you, just take a look around. * * * When sunlight’s last kiss embraces your face or as twilight beckons to steal the day, and fireflies dance to their reticent song I’m there beside you, a heartbeat away. ~R~ ’66 i wait EVAN FOLLOWED HER to the study. Ryleigh retrieved the journal from the desk and motioned for him to pull a chair up beside her. Without thinking, she pressed her palm to the stained cover. Her stomach fluttered. “Looks old.” She handed him the journal and watched his eyes move rhythmically through the verses and duly noted his expression, a reflection of hers. When he’d finished reading, he looked at her with a deer-in-the headlights stare. “Who wrote these?” ~ excerpt from Chapter Twenty ~ A Promise of Fireflies: WHEN IT COMES to the written word, Evan has a sixth sense and his life seems guided by that inherent trait. When he read the journal, the compassion and desire to know its secrets kindled the spark in his inquisitive eyes. Sometimes I envy his insight. Yet other times I’m glad my love affair with the written word is more a passion than a “sense”. To have such insight can be a tremendous burden. Ryan knew this. He lived and died under the shadow of such an insight. A shadow he couldn’t quite put his finger on—yet sensed it to be something bigger—more sobering than anything he could name. Sometimes that sort of insight isn’t merely a burden. It’s a curse. ~ Ryleigh i walk along a river’s mossy edge with your footsteps synced with mine i wait as raindrops come slow to rest and fireflies to awaken and blink alive * * * i wander a golden moonbeam’s thread with your hand tucked into mine i wait for the sun to take full rise and pour out wakes of warm sunshine * * * i wait for you as days flash by i wait for you hold on to time i wait for you don’t say goodbye * * * i wake in a loft bedded sweetly with hay with your body curled next to me i wait for the song of distant sleigh bells and christmas morn to dawn quietly * * * i wait for you as days go by i wait for you no more time i wait for you don’t say goodbye ~R~ ‘66 BESIDES THE OBVIOUS dates, the evidence was clear to me the following addition to “i wait” had been written while my father served in Vietnam. It’s his comparison to my mother’s presence beside him walking the paths of St. Louis and reliving her memory in the trenches of a war twelve thousand miles from home. He couldn’t have her by his side, but she was always with him, a dream away. How many times have we too, longed to reach out and touch someone, so real, yet just out of reach? To this day, I feel my mother’s presence and I yearn for her—to talk to her or hold her hand in mine—just once more. ~ Ryleigh i creep through a jungle mire with a metal barrel across my chest i wait not for you but ghosts hidden in vine and for darkness to reveal its eerie unrest * * * i lay in a trench bedded in leaf and vine with only shadows behind weary eyes i wait for you to lead the pathway to sleep and free me from night’s forlorn cries * * * i wait for you to hold me near i wait for you to wipe the tear i wait for you you’re ever here ~R~ ‘67 You Fill My Dreams RYAN’S WORDS ARE steeped in remembrance—memories of my mother, Ellie, that he would take onto the battlefield to recall when sleep eluded him. His words help me remember how special that one person you truly connect with is. Your soul-mate. The love of your life. I should remind Logan how much he means to me—maybe he’ll pop the cork on that amazing red ambrosia from the vineyard he purchased in Tuscany. Poetry in a bottle, he says. I say the poetry is in his touch. ~ Ryleigh Whispers hidden in a soft summer breeze, the cadence kindled in a crackling winter fire— the melody in the flutter of autumn leaves, ’tis the chirp of a chickadee’s springtime choir. * * * Tender mercy on moist, willing lips, the heart’s silent language spoken within— the caring hand of a lover’s tender caress, ’tis the silk of brushed suede, skin against skin. * * * Ribbons of color stretched in an arc, the sliver of green in golden champagne eyes— the freckled dots scattered across a nose, ’tis the silhouette cast in the wake of moonrise. * * * Redolence of wine rousing seeds of desire, the dusty-sweet smell of a bed laden in hay— the perfume of sunrise lifting a misty morn, ’tis the balm of love, new beginnings, new day. * * * You fill my senses when the wind whispers its song, you fill the void when stars swallow the night— you carry me into sleep weary dreams, your scent the oil that paints the purest twilight. ~R ~ ’66 Enchanted VAGUE MEMORIES SNEAK up on me sometimes. One of the few recollections I have of Ben, the only father I’ve ever truly known, is of him reading poems to me as a small child. I imagined magical dragons and faeries and wizards, and sometimes the uncomfortable scary things a little girl conjures in her mind. I felt so safe wrapped in Daddy’s arms, and he smelled of soap and minty toothpaste and his whiskers prickled my cheek. It made me giggle and he would squeeze me tighter, safe from the perils of the world. It’s one of the few memories I’m certain are mine alone, and I often wonder if it was this poem, with its mythical creatures and fairy-dust that this small child remembers cradled in her Daddy’s arms. ~ Ryleigh If only our world was enchanted, a magical world of fantasy— of knights and wizards and faerie tales, there’d be no need for make-believe. * * * No need for dreams of a solemn place, a place no one else would know— magically encased in falling stars, and faerie-dust kisses to bestow. * * * No need for worry in this fantasy world where wings of dragons whisk you away— pixies sprint o’er cobblestone paths to cast away all cares of ordinary days. * * * No need for time, as time stands still in this clandestine castle of dreams— where unicorns frolic amid twilight stars and woodland faeries dance on moonbeams. * * * No need for fear, cast away all doubt to the winds of this enchanted world— be gone on gossamer dragonfly wings sail away earthly worries as they unfold. * * * If only our world was enchanted and fantasy could shelter our fears— I would fly with you on dragon’s wings and dance as one among firefly tears. ~R~ ’66 Kiss of Autumn THE FIRST TIME I read “Kiss of Autumn”, I thought it merely a poet’s expression of autumn’s approach. But after Ambrose shared Ryan’s story with me, I sensed the apprehension hidden inside the words. The earth is opening its arms to the changing season and his life is on the verge of major changes as well. As he prepares to go to war, his feelings for my mother deepen. The analogy to the changing season is also the mixed emotion of a young man torn between commitments—love of country and love for a woman. ~ Ryleigh A brisk autumn chill weights the air, frost will soon sprinkle the ground— morning mist will greet shorter days, copper and scarlet trees will abound. * * * Autumn’s breath will temper the land, God’s paint will turn to fire and gold— Earth’s embrace opens awaiting arms, and beckons God’s majesty to behold. * * * Earth succumbs to autumn’s slumber, covering herself in a dazzling dress— embrace autumn’s first virgin kiss, awaiting the hour of winter’s icy caress. ~R~ ’66 Lonesome Cries THEY SAY TRAITS or tendencies run in families. I can’t help but smile at the similarities between Ryan and my mother’s encounter in a hayloft one snowy Christmas eve in St. Louis, and the days Logan and I spent during a fierce snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains. I’m not going to lie though, I’m glad the only hay involved in our encounter was that in the horse barn we visited briefly. Picking hay from my hair or lady parts doesn’t sound exactly thrilling. An unexpected plunge in an icy river filled my lifetime quota for thrills, thank you very much. Though my mother’s and my stories are a generation apart, love spans all time and has the power to change lives, to change history. It changed my mother’s, and it certainly changed mine. ~Ryleigh Evening engulfs the last of daylight, small creatures scurry without a sound— icy winter air stings blushed cheeks and snowflakes flutter to the ground. * * * Nestled among snowy evergreen boughs awaits a hay loft we will share— shivering shadows huddle ever close merging to warm winter’s chilled air. * * * Close we huddle in blanket worn each moment a memory to last forever— our bodies entwined cradle the chill fusing time and memory ever together. * * * Shadows dance in graceful silhouettes on the edge of the evening twilight— embraced by the warmth of your sweet smile and consummate love made on a winter’s night. * * * Lowing cattle sing a sweet lullaby, as I touch your face, moist lips, and eyes— to pin them to memory, as real as flesh calms the ache of my heart’s lonesome cries. ~R~ ’66 Never Say Goodbye SAYING GOODBYE IS tough. Sometimes nearly unbearable. The day Evan rode a bike by himself and wobbled down the sidewalk I knew I had to say goodbye to the little boy, and hello to his independence; the day he left for college I felt my heart break in two—my job was nearly done; the day my husband of over twenty years left me for another woman and walked out, I said goodbye to one life and hello to a whole new world—terrified to take the first step; the day my mother passed away, I said goodbye to the only living relative I’d ever known; and the day Logan and I said goodbye at Whisper of the Pines, my world tilted sideways and I didn’t think it would ever right itself again. Sometimes goodbye can be healing, like deciding to let go of the past and move on with your life. But there’s nothing harder than saying goodbye to someone you love, unsure if you’ll ever see them again. Or knowing you won’t. I believe Ryan wrote this the day he left for Vietnam in early 1967. ~Ryleigh No need for words, this day we must part, silent words written with reticent tears— Close your eyes and kiss me once more for the days will pass; soon too, the years. * * * Gave you my heart, now they beat as one but there comes a calling I cannot ignore— Though our love grows deeper, I feel the pull to fight for freedom waged on a distant shore. * * * Once thought forever, life changes the dream but you’ll be my rainbow after the rain— Days hurry past, and time slips away no time to bury the heartache and pain. * * * So hold me close once more before we part, your body mine one more measure of time— Our special song written in unspoken touch no need for words, our love quietly entwined. * * * Remember each day, nights held in warmth endless days gone now, in a blink of an eye— The whisper of a kiss, a language unspoken no need for words. Please don’t say goodbye. ~R~ ’67 Across, I Feel RALEIGH OPENED THE satchel and removed the worn journal. Her hand lingered over the dark stain. An odd sensation tickled her stomach. “Ryan wrote the poems for my mother?” “He did, indeed. He was gifted. He saw things others did not.” “I think I understand.” “Of course you do. You are of his loins. His heart beats as yours and the words flowed from him as naturally as his breath.” Ambrose’s eyes drifted beyond a long nose, one eye—the right—seemed to move a fraction slower. “Much as you do—your inheritance and future promise, if you will.” —from Chapter Nineteen ~ A Promise of Fireflies I CANNOT IMAGINE the courage it takes to leave home and family to fight for freedom in another country so far from everything that’s familiar, and still be able to see past the ugliness. The culture and beauty of a country and a people would usually be overlooked by the atrocities of war. But somehow, Ryan saw through the horror to capture what he saw—sometimes only the mud beneath his boots, the atmosphere of the jungle, or the skies alight at night with firepower—and yet he put his personal war on hold and distanced himself long enough to capture the beauty of Vietnam. His passion, fear, and loneliness bleed through his words, as does the eerie “shadow” that haunts him. Ambrose was right. Ryan saw things others did not. ~Ryleigh Across rolling waves of an endless sea through golden grains of coastal sands— across acres of jungle, patchworks of green I feel the touch of your skin on my hand. * * * Across the firework-filled skies dark with war through the acrid blackened smoke and ash— across thunderous clouds, shadowed with rain I feel your breath as a whispered wish. * * * Across the mire of foot trodden trails through sodden showers of infected rain— across crystalline skies littered with fire I feel the tug of destiny’s rhythmic refrain. * * * Across the path, do not follow my way for it shall lead through destined shadow— across foreign worlds, across endless time alone, my guide leads where I must follow. ~R~ ’67 Rhythm of the Jungle FEAR. WE’VE ALL faced it in one form or another. Fear of being alone. Fear for a loved one’s life. Fear of heights, snakes, drowning, or losing sense of self. Fear of living. And of death. There are millions of things we’re fearful of in our lives, but to be a mere eighteen years old and face fear every minute of every day is inconceivable to me. Ryan is younger than my son is now. That in itself is frightening. It’s no wonder these brave souls latched onto whatever happiness and familiarity they could to get them through the days and endless nights of the fear of the unknown soldier creeping through the jungle, whose only mission is to kill the enemy. You. And the fear of having to do the same to them, or die trying. I believe Ryan wrote this as a tribute to my mother for being with him in spirit, his only solace in a horrible situation. He could shut his eyes to the horrors that surrounded him, and with her there by his side—even if only in his mind’s eye—find the hallowed place he desperately sought to block the fear and find rest. Ryan was a boy in a man’s body. Yet he possessed more courage than someone twice his age. ~Ryleigh Quiet swells her voice to a thick vicious roar and bellows heartbeats of cavernous fright— bombs echo their thunder beyond the next rise and tracers splinter the black cover of night. * * * Firelights flicker across vine-laden trails and hushed boots trample muddy a virgin path— Spectral silence prowls through murky haze and echoes the call of death’s lonesome wrath. * * * Mist’s mournful shroud blankets dawn’s early light and eyes ever watchful nurse bitter anguish unbled— Choirs of prayers croon the jungles’ cruel lullaby and sing reverent melodies of unspoken dread. * * * The rhythm of the jungle purrs poisoned rain and taps her lonely cadence, drumbeat of fear— Days swallow dreams drowned in milky mists and imprison illusions in the cocoon of desire. * * * Shadows embrace ghosts of fallen Eagles, my friends and pierce private dreams, memories held deep— Till a whisper of wind holds hands with my dream and your voice brushes my lips—my prelude to sleep. ~R~ ’67 destiny waits RYLEIGH TRACED THE stain with her thumb, the pebbled leather familiar, yet as anomalous as her past. “The words of your father abound with fear and death, beauty, and unending love. And darkness. The Screaming Eagles’ motto is ‘Rendezvous With Destiny.’ Ryan believed fate followed him through the jungles of Vietnam. He wrote vividly of being in the clutches of something he felt but could not see. His destiny. Do you remember what is written on the back of the photograph?” Recognition lit up her face. “‘Today this may be nothing, but tomorrow it may be all that is left.’ He knew, didn’t he?” “A sixth sense perhaps. Some are gifted that way.” Ryleigh shook her head slowly. “I’d call it a curse.” —from Chapter Nineteen ~ A Promise of Fireflies THERE ARE SEVERAL of Ryan’s poems that depict the unknown “shadow” that haunted him. This one, I believe, he wrote knowing his ‘rendezvous with destiny’ was close, but unsure what it meant for his life. After rereading each of the poems many times and although I can’t fully decipher his thoughts, I feel his discontentment—an intimate restlessness. It would be similar to the fear we feel when we hear a noise in the basement and we’re home alone. There’s no punctuation—for me, this means there is no beginning and no end to this thing that haunts him. But it’s Ryan’s loneliness that plagues me the most. He’s alone with this shadow that follows him. Waits for him. Even his best friend cannot recognize what he feels. And this poem shows it. He may have been able to turn away from it at times, but the ghost, the darkness, the shadow returns. I think he knew his own destiny. ~Ryleigh the way obscured a blinded eye the paths ahead cached in rain the light dims yet eyes are clear the hours fade yet shadows remain * * * the air is thick ashen snow falls the silence deafens slicing through night the chill creeps stepping ever near the wind wavers blanketing the light * * * the heat rises a dragon’s fire the rain drenches drowning thought the night awakens peppered in lights the ghosts return their presence unfought * * * listening but not seeing eyes alert the eagle waits like a sentinel stands the rendezvous nears silent steps near destiny awaits with outstretched hands ~R~ ’67 With Me ALTHOUGH RYAN CREPT through the jungle with his platoon, he was alone. But he also had a gift to help him through the worst times. He not only imagined my mother with him, he was able to write what he felt, to preserve his thoughts and feelings in words and rhyme. These were his love letters to my mother, his Ellie, and she was always with him. And these same words soothed a small child in the arms of her daddy. Little did I know these words that spoke so profoundly of my father’s destiny, would be my destiny as well. ~ Ryleigh You’re with me in the mire and the mud and next to me when the skies flash fire— You’re with me when I lay my head to sleep under distant sounds of destiny’s desire. * * * You’re with me when dust powders worn boots and next to me when thunder rumbles the rise— You’re with me as I snake exposed riverbanks wading blood-filled waters rushing waist high. * * * You’re with me as hot metal pierces the silence and next to me as ash and death fill the air— You’re with me as I lay brother Eagles to rest over pleading prayers of anguished despair. * * * You’re with me in every step, every thought and next to me as my pen coins these words— You’re with me in a jungle of fireflies’ glow your voice the song, heartbeat the chords. ~R~ ’67 Scars SCARS EVENTUALLY FADE into thin silver lines, the ghost of their past barely visible when a finger traces the silvery threads, the pain a distant memory. Unlike wounds of the flesh, the invisible scars remain. At some point they may become less hurtful, but they will always remain, a piece of the past we can’t undo. Scars—those of the flesh and those of the mind—woven together in seamless design mesh into the fabric of the person we are. After reading Ryan’s words, I believe the scars of war never truly heal for those who serve, and those who await a soldier’s return. ~Ryleigh Images fade, like a dying film from black and white to gray— Torn pieces of a jagged life woven together, worn and frayed. * * * Torn pieces of a solemn life stretched across a universe of sea— Sewn remnants of a younger time when days were filled with you and me. * * * Sewn remnants now make a quilt to cover the plagues incurred in war— a masquerade among jungle vines memories bound in silver bands of scar. * * * A masquerade amid hills dressed in black slick with muddy ash, infected rain— Memories abandoned in minds recessed images left to haunt dreams of pain. ~R~ ’67 time waits naught RYAN’S WORDS STARTLED me the first time I read this poem. It was as if whatever he felt pursued him was on his heels, waiting to stake its claim. Later, when Ambrose shared Ryan’s story with me, the immediacy of his words pierced my heart. I knew the outcome, yet I prayed things would turn out differently. I wonder what would have happened if they had. How would our lives have been changed? Who would I have become? No punctuation. No beginning. No end. I think I understand. ~Ryleigh sounds of silence splinter the night restless souls dream riddled sleep sounds of silence deafen the echo and feigned footfalls quietly creep * * * deadened drums of thunder roar restless boots fear trodden thought deadened drums of metallic rain descend to earth their corpses to rot * * * pelting rain scours smoky skies restless soldiers anchored fear pelting rain drowns gunfire volley time waits naught; the shadow draws near ~R~ ’67 Phantom Guide When skies glow red and turn to fire you are there behind my eyes— When skies turn gray and hell rains down you are there to hear my cries. * * * When skies are skeletal with broken wings you are there to allay the fear— When skies reflect the bloody hills you are there, your touch ever real. * * * When skies rain with blackened snow you are there against my side— When skies grow weary and wink no light you are there, my phantom guide. * * * When skies once again shimmer crystal blue I’ll be there, beside you to stand— When skies shine again with twilight stars I’ll be there, with outstretched hand. ~R~ ’67 A PROMISE HE couldn’t keep. Yet, somehow I know Ryan met Mom in heaven, reaching for her with outstretched hands. And they were reunited, the promise he made in the midst of war to come back to her fulfilled. They say time doesn’t exist in heaven. They say you’ll remember your loved ones. I’d like to think it’s true. I’d love to have been there when Ryan and my mother were reunited. And Ben. I wonder how that works when you enter the Kingdom? Maybe I should ask Logan. He’s got a direct line, you know. ~Ryleigh Sometimes PROMISES AREN’T MEANT to be broken, and yet sometimes we have no choice. Circumstances dictate the choices we make, and sometimes it’s not our choice at all but what is meant to be. Ryan wasn’t given the choice, and the last line nearly broke my heart because I’m certain it wasn’t his choice never to hold his infant son and daughter in his arms. Or never see Ellie again. ~Ryleigh Sometimes the battle lines thunder near my breath ceases in deadened sound, so close I smell my own stench of fear ready, waiting, for hell to rain down. * * * Sometimes firelight skitters across the sky silent, cunning, in their mission’s mark, so close, I feel the brush of their course the kiss of death, crouched in the dark. * * * Sometimes hillsides are painted with red where amber grains wave in blackened ash, so close, I taste the copper tang of death of fallen ghosts stretched over blinded path. * * * Sometimes rivers run in ruts of mud and ribbons of red flow by in lazy swirls, so close, I hear drowning cries of lost souls calling for their destiny in mournful wails. * * * Sometimes days are dressed in cautious laughter stories flow, songs sung of these chosen men, so close, yet I hear whispers pierce the air your words the promise I’ll see you again. ~R~ ’67 the shadow THE LACK OF punctuation is again present in this poem, indicating to me there is neither a beginning, nor is there an end. It just is. It exists on some plane Ryan couldn’t see, but sensed, and wrote the words with a peculiar darkness that each time I read his words here, that darkness creeps inside, chilling me to the bone. The presence of something he couldn’t describe plagued him, and he wove traces of a sort of indescribable fear, a “shadow” into his work. Though this poem haunts me even today, it wasn’t until I was aware of Ryan’s story that I truly understood what that fear was. A young soldier thrust into a bloody war is fear enough in itself, but when something stalks you—something you can’t name, it’s bound to haunt every moment. Ryan wasn’t afraid of battle, of that I’m sure. A quiet courage bleeds through his poems. But he walked in the shadow of fate, a fate that followed his every move through a place that both inspired him and sickened him, and held him prisoner. Yet this brave young man who loved his country and the woman he left behind, walked with courage toward his destiny. ~Ryleigh it clings to my heels follows me close it clings to the earth i think it knows * * * it’s there in the light cloud or rainbow there in the thunder i think it knows * * * it trespasses thoughts larger it grows it devours dreams i think it knows * * * it pollutes the mind plague of souls it taints my tears i think it knows * * * under mask of fear the shadow grows under guise of fate i’m sure it knows * * * it is the shadow ever present still it is the shadow it is God’s will ~R~ ’67 Across This Bloodstained Universe CAN YOU FEEL it? This one is a bit lighter—as if Ryan has accepted his fate and is ready to move on. He’s saying farewell to all he’s known and willing to grasp whatever it is he’s supposed to, to enter this next phase. It takes an unworldly amount of courage to do what he’s done—to accept his fate and enter a new realm. One can only hope our own courage doesn’t fail when our time comes. ~Ryleigh Farewell familiar places I have been and roads that lead nowhere else— to olive branch and Eagle perched across this blood-stained universe. * * * Farewell to signs that lead us on and stay aligned on paths emerged— to wander on winding aimless track across this blood-stained universe. * * * Farewell to youth, gone with absent moon and words of rhyme written to converse— to soldiers trenched in silent chaos across this blood-stained universe. * * * Farewell to shadows that haunt my path and follow me with footprints cursed— to claim my soul when sands run dry across this blood-stained universe. * * * Farewell to all that has been my life and sail on a journey, new, unrehearsed— to a place familiar inside of hope into an unspoiled heavenly universe. ~R~ ’67 Lost I CAN’T READ these lines without taking pause. The emotion it stirs is a recipe for love, anger, disappointment, and an incredible sadness I can neither describe, nor will I ever be able to name. Written the day my father received a telegram from my mother telling him of his son’s death, it speaks of inconceivable loss. Ryan’s loss. My loss. And my mother’s deepest heartache. To assuage his pain, Ryan wrote as if he had held his son in his arms, though he never had. It was as close as he’d ever be to a son and daughter fate had stolen from him. I can’t imagine the loss of a child. I cannot envision the loss my mother must have felt even after all those years. Mom loved chocolate candy, especially M&Ms, but never ate the green ones. Never. She saved them for the return of a boy she adored and would never see again, and an infant son, the ghost of whose tiny body she carried with her in remembrance. ~Ryleigh I placed my love inside your heart and softly called your name— I placed a hole inside of mine as God’s heavenly angels came. * * * I placed a kiss of golden tears upon your tiny chest— I placed a rainbow at your door the day you came to rest. * * * I placed a single pure white rose upon your tiny feet— I placed my hand against your cheek and said goodbye, my sweet. * * * I placed a gentle autumn breeze within your tiny space— I placed with you, a piece of me and let you go in God’s embrace. ~R~ ’67 I WROTE THE following verse shortly after learning of my twin’s existence. With my best friend, Natalie, by my side, I placed a Christmas wreath on my brother’s grave in Ballston Spa, NY. I don’t know where the words came from, maybe it was the impact of having a piece of my past so near, so tangible. Maybe to secure the knowledge of his existence, the invisible link we share. Maybe it was a simple need for closure to a loss I could not yet fully process. ~Ryleigh * * * I placed a piece of me today alongside you as you rest— I placed my everlasting love for my brother, in whom I’m blessed. ~RME~ Part Two * * * in the SHADOW of LOVE Ryleigh Winter’s Embrace THE LEATHER JOURNAL was identical to the one her father had filled so many years ago, yet no blood stained the cover. The pages were stark white and empty except for a single sheet of yellow legal paper, edges precisely aligned. The letter was penned in the same scrawl she’d seen in a note handwritten to her mother. The paper quivered in her hands. ‘My Dear Miss Ryleigh— I hope you find words enough to fill these pages for the man you desire—yes, I know of Mr. Cavanaugh. The desires of the heart are rarely an obstacle for those who treasure love. He is one who truly deserves a place inside your heart, inside your treasure chest. Kindle his love with your words. Write to him often, in here. He is an insightful man. Trust me…’ ~Ambrose. Ryleigh set the letter aside and opened the journal. The words flowed effortlessly across the empty page as did her tears, branding her journal as her father had done decades ago in the jungles of Vietnam. —From Chapter Thirty-Four ~ A Promise of Fireflies I COULDN’T SEE past my tears the day I received Ambrose’s letter. They were sad tears. For Ambrose. But the thought that the enigmatic old man sensed Logan in my life brought tears of joy. Ambrose is an odd character to be sure, and I wanted desperately to believe in something he couldn’t possible know. I hadn’t written poetry for a very long time, but the words came easily, as if the emotions of the last year and a half had seasoned my pen. Sometimes our greatest loss ends up our truest joy. These are for you, Logan. You are the joy I found that healed the wounds of ultimate loss. Under protection, murky darkness of dusk a wake of light, a path, a way— awaken from sleep, a calloused heart convictions lost in winter’s snowy quay. * * * Broken promises, dispirited heart severed dreams shattered in transgression— disclosed secrets, silent ones lost assuaged under cover of winter’s confession. * * * Solitary souls in solemn solitude surrender as one, a sheltered egress— calmed fears, forged of queried faiths lost soul found within winter’s embrace. ~RME~ Intimacy’s Shelter THE JOURNAL AMBROSE sent me is identical to the one my father carried in the jungles of Vietnam, but the only stains on mine are the tears that fell to the page after I let the man I had fallen in love with walk out of my life. I would have sold my soul to the devil to have one more January day at Whisper of the Pines resort. I thought he was gone and I would never see him again. I was wrong. I’ve been known to relapse into the realm of inaccuracies. On a rare occasion. Shhh, don’t tell Logan. He thinks I’m right all the time. ~Ryleigh As the snow fell, downy flakes piled high I closed my eyes to winter’s embrace— Awakened memories cached behind the pain and drift to slumber in wonderland’s grace. * * * ‘Neath blankets of down, solace complete I closed my eyes to visions of unrequited pain— Wrapped securely in compassion’s embrace lost in intimacy’s shelter unrestrained. * * * Memories fading, the passage of time I closed my eyes and enter elusive days— Entwined in reflections behind tawny eyes and disappear in dreams of abandoned display. * * * Remembering us, remembering when I opened my eyes to discovery given birth— Raw emotions remembered cradled against skin vulnerable and bare as the unclothed earth. ~RME~ Beside You THE WORDS IN Ryan’s poem, “Beside You”, are profoundly visual and as intimate as the touch of desire. Though he wrote them for my mother, Ellie, I couldn’t help form my own images of what I had imagined for Logan, to let him know I was always there, in the whisper of the wind, the twinkle of stars above, in the remote details that surrounded him. Life pulsed around him as did my heart, and I wanted Logan to know I was there in everything and everywhere, just as my father had done so long ago in the jungles of Vietnam. I wrote these words as a continuation of my father’s poem, the words for the man who came into my life unexpectedly with such presence I know him to be with me always, as I am with him. ~Ryleigh When God paints the sky with ethereal evening hues or bathes the world in its subtle moonlight, and dots the twilight with thousands of twinkling eyes I’m there beside you, in the tender quiet of night. * * * When sparks awaken from a crumbling bed of ash or bright flames dance and warm your skin, and the firelight embraces your body in warmth I’m there beside you, beginning and end. * * * When a yellow rose surrenders its fragrant scent or the redolent mist rises from a fine red wine, and comfort surrounds you in complete content I’m there beside you, in faultless design. * * * When the lips of an angel gently brush your cheek or an embrace tightens its arms in tender caress, just open your eyes to all that is real because I’m with you, beside you, effortless. ~RME~ When Summer Breathes I WROTE THIS shortly after the continuation of “Beside You”. With the same idea in mind—an ever-presence—I wanted to paint a somewhat different picture with this one. It’s almost a point/counterpoint view to Logan’s absence. ~Ryleigh P.S. When I look back on these verses, I find myself falling backward into that hollow emptiness, but the solidity of Logan’s presence is all I need, all I will ever need. He holds my hand and my heart, the comfort of his flesh profound. When the wind whispers and calls your name and autumn leaves turn to scarlet and gold— It’s then thoughts blur and crowd my mind of a kind, gentle man in my dreams I now hold. * * * When the air turns brisk and reddens my cheek and my words form a cloud of icy mist— It’s then I reminisce of time spent alone and feel again in the flesh our first hesitant kiss. * * * When enchanted laughter of children resound and peppermint and gingerbread fill the air— It’s then I long for your solid embrace and sense the warmth of your smile everywhere. * * * When snow descends unquenched from above and forlorn skies fade to shades of gray— Its then I feel your warmth by my side and slip into the comfort of deeper days. * * * When snow falls quietly on barren trees and the streets resound with holiday cheer— It’s then I see your face among the crowd and dream of your touch so far, yet so near. * * * When the earth breaks free of its frozen demise and warm splashes of sun grace your face— It’s then I hold you forever in my mind and glimpse the gentleness of your grace. * * * When summer breathes upon cloudless skies and sunrise peeks through a tranquil morn— It’s then that I dance to unsung melodies and cling to precious memories yet unborn. * * * When you savor memories that we share and your distant thoughts drift back to me— It’s then you’ll see I’m forever there save your dreams for desires of reality. ~RME~ She Waits BEING ALONE SUCKS. Not the alone time we all need to recharge, but that empty feeling when those we love aren’t around—the kind that’s so deep and hollow it seems a cavernous hole that can’t be filled. It eats at you like a cancer spreading its tentacles to consume more of you than you think you can bear. At this point in my life I wanted to move past that kind of loneliness, that ache, that hollow place only Logan could fill. I sensed ours was a story that had been abandoned, one that had both cause and reaction, but was yet unfinished. ~Ryleigh Emerging from her cocoon the butterfly seeks her wings to fly away, to leave her haven so she waits patiently for spring. * * * A kite fails to truly fly without a tail or loft of air to lift her up among the clouds so she waits patiently to soar. * * * Music doesn’t complete a song without words and haunting melody to be sung in time with lonely grief so she waits in patient rhapsody. * * * Ocean tides won’t ebb and flow without the presence of the moon to wash the waves upon the shore so she waits patiently alone. * * * Like the ocean, butterfly and song without a story with an end to complete them, they will mourn so I wait for you, my scars to mend. ~RME~ Winter Rests SOMETIMES WORDS GET in the way. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words—all you need do is listen. ~Ryleigh Winter comes crashing in a snowy foray lost souls surrounded in ice are cast— Unspoken words warm hardened hearts and cling to truths of unclothed pasts. * * * Winter is besieged by subtle light of touch senses spiral, frozen feelings awake— Ushering darkness to a sleepy death and leaves solace in winter’s wake. * * * Winter rests, shadows brighten and stretch winter rests, days lengthen and warm— Winter rests, shared intimacy held dear winter rests, yet my heart’s memory mourns. ~RME~ Safe Haven LOGAN AND I were two souls lost in the ghosts of their pasts colliding with what we knew to be something unfathomed to either of us, something extremely special. The first time he held me I felt safe, as if something bound us, something we couldn’t take hold of but yet I knew I could let go and let him take me into the safe haven of his embrace. And there I stayed. After he left, the ache of his absence was so profound I thought it would swallow me whole. It nearly did. ~Ryleigh High as the mountains my heart leapt a safe haven for silent secrets concealed— High as an eagle soaring on outstretched wings a safe haven for secrets intimately revealed. * * * Soft as snowflakes, a downy blanket on earth warm as the firelight reflecting in tawny eyes— Soft as a breeze, a kiss whispered in prayer searching for shelter under falling skies. * * * Behind mirrors, pathways to hidden pasts casting cares whispered into the breeze— Behind smokescreens fogged fear of doubt seeking solace as lost souls grieve. * * * Tender as emotions cut to the bone fears loosed as two lost souls collide— Tender as the touch of skin against skin bared to another, no reason to hide. * * * Deep as a canyon unable to cross wide as a river raging waters deep— Hollow is the ache, unable to quell treasured memories I alone to keep. ~RME~ One Again THOUGH I FELT as if the world had turned upside down and spit me out, I clung to the tiniest of threads, that one ray of hope… ~Ryleigh Who held me when the lights went out, who held me when water showered down, who held me when the storm unleashed, and wrapped their safe haven in complete surround? * * * Who was there to capture unspoken pain, who was there to share sequestered secrets, who was there to see beyond fragile tears, and steal a touch, a kiss, a heart heaven sent? * * * Who opened a heart once bitterly closed, who opened eyes blinded in pain, who opened arms folded in remorse, and found the way clear to love again? * * * You placed my heart among healing hands, you placed my body against your chest, you placed all of me in firm embrace, and rescued my soul and gave me rest. * * * I watched as heartache doused the flame, I watched as pain filled once tawny eyes, I watched as mountains faded from view, and storm clouds returned to gray the skies. * * * Never have secrets so broken my heart, never have I felt such rapture within, never have I left you, though you are gone, and never will I doubt we shall be one again. ~RME~ Sad Eyes WHEN I RETURNED home from Whisper of the Pines, I couldn’t bear the thought of my memories fading over time. I never wanted to forget how the silver curls just over Logan’s ears glistened in the firelight, the way his scent lingered on my skin, and how his touch made everything right with the world. If this was my one chance at that true “once in a lifetime” love, I surely didn’t want to let his image fade from my memory. One thing I knew I would never forget are his eyes. As solemn as an unspoken prayer and as warm as molten chocolate, he couldn’t hide the compassion emulating from them. But his story lay hidden behind a sadness I came to understand would always haunt him, and me. At times, the sadness lifted and the joy that creased his eyes was so pure it melted my heart just to see it, like a baby’s first smile after a long illness. I love those eyes, sadness and all, because this is Logan. The man complete. ~ Ryleigh Behind curtains of liquid suede shields the torment of silent sound— Scars masked in a fleeting smile hey you with sad eyes, just turn around. * * * Behind veils of an ocean wave hides the pain of a past unwound— Scars that mask an unknown past hey you with sad eyes, just turn around. * * * Behind the blanket of blinding white forbidden thoughts hide, opening wounds— Once dormant brought forth anew hey you with sad eyes, just turn around. * * * Turn around and feel the warmth emanating from a once frozen heart— Here to protect in secure embrace hey you with sad eyes, come heal your scars. * * * Turn around and feel the comfort emerging from a broken past— Here to succumb in sweet surrender hey you with sad eyes, come remove the mask. * * * Turn around, pour out your heart let the past converge with the present— Torment and pain remain behind hey you with sad eyes, you were heaven sent. ~RME~ Pieces WHEN YOUR HEART breaks, it seems to shatter into a million pieces, and I wasn’t ready to sweep them up. I wasn’t ready to start over. Again. ~Ryleigh Picking up the pieces is the hardest part, slipping past the pain inside an aching heart. * * * Picking up the pieces severed with a sword, handed out in agony inside devil-masked words. * * * Picking up the pieces felled in imagined desires, stolen in silent submission inside flames of fire. * * * Picking up the pieces days dredged in dark, wounds heal to scar inside a centered mark. * * * Picking up the pieces marks of certain end, is the hardest part of starting over again. ~RME~ Silent Songs THE TOUCH OF a hand. Caress of eyes. A whisper of breath. Heartbeats as one. Skin against skin. Sometimes there is no need of words, everything you wish to say is spoken in silent song—those sung by the heart. ~Ryleigh No need for words in this place we’ve found; no need for explanation silent songs spoken aloud. * * * No need for words gentle hands fed desire; no need for anxious apology silent songs quenched the fire. * * * No need for words under cover of moonlight clear; no need for thoughts concealed silent songs unbound the fear. * * * No need for words revealed past hidden secrets; no words, just your touch silent songs speak no regrets. ~RME~ Stolen EVERY DECISION WE make has consequences. I made the decision to take a step into the future and move on when Chandler abandoned everything we’d built over twenty-four years. The culmination of that decision tore at me—was I making the right decision? What would have happened had I not taken that step? Trying to figure out what might have been can only complicate matters, and what I discovered is that no matter how much heartache that single decision may have caused, I wouldn’t change it, even if I could turn back the clock. It’s a part of who I am. I can live with that. ~Ryleigh The past has stolen more than time the winding road has neared the bend, I turn the page—a day for each and search for you at every chapter end. * * * The past has ripped more than flesh the road has taken a bitter turn, I reach for solace in comfort embrace and search for you as silent tears burn. * * * The past has broken more than hearts the lonely road does ripple and twist, I imagine you in every dreamscape and search for you on this unfurled quest. * * * The past will merge with the present but the road shows me not where to be, I reach for you through empty nights and search for a past stolen from me. ~RME~ Tell Me Your Story EVERYONE HAS A story. Sometimes the plot isn’t what you’d expect and sends you through the tornadoes of life. Plowing through those difficult times alone can be overwhelming, but if shared with a friend, can turn out to be all you need to get through it. Logan and I shared our stories, connecting us with an invisible lifeline, a tether that can never be broken. His story was safe with me and mine with him. One step, and then another. Two became one flesh, a shared body, mind and spirit. I believe it’s the reason—that invisible tether—why he returned to what we had. ~Ryleigh Tell me your story, beginning to end each chapter I’ll take as my own, to shoulder the pain mingled with mine born of trust, no longer alone. * * * Tell me your story, one page at a time written with tears deepened with pain, haunted lives drift into dreamless sleep till morning awakens the shadows again. * * * Tell me your story, leave nothing to chance told between lines, saddened and blind, hidden behind eyes distant with grief barriers borne broken down in time. * * * Tell me your story, I’ve given you mine take my hand, strength of two together, and close our eyes in a leap of faith one step, then two, our story forever. ~RME The Road THEY SAY LIFE is a journey. You can’t look back if you intend to focus on the future. Sometimes it’s hard not to. I did, and suffered for it. It’s like becoming dizzy on an upside-down roller-coaster, and then purposely going back, knowing you’ll be sick if you do. It’s one of those things I’ve chalked up to experience, and one I prefer not to repeat. The past is a part of who we are and where we’ve been, but we mustn’t dwell on it. We don’t know what the road ahead holds, but we need to stay focused. Take the wheel on this journey and see where it leads—one step at a time. ~Ryleigh The road winds its way here and there knowing not where it shall end— Carelessly crisscrossing unfamiliar paths colliding as one, then back again. * * * The road is one less traveled by and a leap of faith begins the journey— The destination remains yet unknown step by step, come away with me. * * * The road is dark, pebbled and worn fogged with weary, unchecked tears— Muddied, confused, no way to return words shrouded in mournful prayers. * * * The road waits in complete surrender on a path that yields no simple track— Unspoiled landscapes await the quest one step forward, no need to look back. ~RME~ Let Your Hand Rest In Mine WHEN TWO BECOME one, they merge into a being who without the other, is incomplete. Unbalanced. Like a table with three legs. I wanted to be Logan’s stability, the part of him he couldn’t do without. And he needed to trust again. To trust in me and in himself, to take my hand and know I would be there, as he is for me now. He is my rock, and I, his shelter. One being—complete in each other. ~Ryleigh Trust me—and let me take your hand and I’ll shoulder your pain as mine— Take a step beyond this living hell and I’ll be there to be your guide. * * * I’ll be your eyes when days grow gray when you can’t find your way— I’ll be your shelter beneath the storm when you need a safe place to lay. * * * I’ll be your ship in troubled seas when angry waves threaten to drown— I’ll be your rainbow in restless skies when rain comes pouring down. * * * I’ll be your wings spread to the wind when storms threaten tears to bleed— I’ll be your fire when skin grows cold when comfort is what you need. * * * I’ll be your song for unspoken verse when you can’t find the words to voice— I’ll be the end to this unfinished story when our love is no longer a choice. * * * I’ll be your comfort for an unsettled soul when sadness creeps through your mind— I’ll share your sweet smile in sunlit skies trust me—and let your hand rest in mine. ~RME~ Find Your Way Back THRUST IN THE shadow of love, the darkness of that shadow held me captive. But even through my darkest hours, I knew Logan was the kind of man who would be able to put the past behind him and once again find the happiness we shared. I wrote this with the blind hope my perception hadn’t been a mere fantasy created out of need—the need to belong. My need knew no time. Time passed without regard to the “when”. My need rested solely in Logan’s return. ~Ryleigh I feel it in your touch, don’t take that away I see it in your eyes, you feel it too please don’t leave through that open door find your way back to me and you. * * * Everybody has a past something they can’t undo the pain is hidden in your eyes I know those scars—they’re mine too but we’ve found what’s been lost and I don’t want to lose you too. * * * Skin against skin, stars shone bright feelings suppressed, became brand new battled the darkness, please don’t let that go find your back to me and you. * * * Everybody has a past something they can’t undo the pain is hidden in your eyes I know those scars—they’re mine too but we’ve found what’s been lost and I don’t want to lose you too. * * * You loved me, then turned back the clock I chose to move on, why can’t you too? a broken promise, you kissed the past please find your way back to me and you. ~RME~ I Will DO YOU REMEMBER the day you uncurled your child’s fingers from yours the first day of kindergarten and the heartbreaking tears of the separation? I remember vividly. God, how I wanted to take Evan in my arms and leave. Right then. But I let him go and cried like a baby the entire way home. Letting go can be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do. Letting someone go for the sake of moving forward, someone you love with all your heart is just as hard, if not harder. Your kindergartener will return home that night, most likely with a smile and some beautiful artwork to hang on the fridge. A lost love may not return, like a bird set free to find his way. But if we truly love someone, we let them go, regardless of the heartache left behind in the wake of a shattered heart. ~Ryleigh Standing on the edge I wasn’t ready to fall but you held out a hand and I answered your call. And then you left and took my heart forever touched my soul and it tears me apart to watch you go but I will. * * * We closed our thoughts and buried the past then you closed yourself wasn’t meant to last. Please don’t close your eyes don’t forget the memories don’t close yourself don’t forget us, please let go the past treasure memories made trust me with your heart let the scars begin to fade. * * * If you can’t find your way take me with you in your heart though words remain unspoken you had me from the start and I don’t want to let you go but I will. * * * And I opened my heart fell into your embrace but you shut me out said you needed your space. And then you left and took my heart and forever touched my soul and it tore me apart to watch you go but I did. ~RME~ Staring at the Stars STARING INTO A clear, dark night is both a somber experience and a bitter reminder that some things are so beyond our reach, it’s like trying to touch the stars. Those same stars burned blue as did my soul the night I wrote this, lost in the extraordinary expanse of the heavens. And in remembrance. ~Ryleigh Staring at the stars tonight like gazing in your eyes alive, filled with endless dreams winking in the twilight skies. * * * Your presence is around me like the whirling summer wind whispering thoughts of tomorrow when I’ll feel your touch again. * * * The warmth of your gentle hand like an ember slowly burning growing brighter in the firelight kindles my deepest yearning. * * * Through the fading light of dusk like gazing in a crystal ball nothing I saw was really there because dreams aren’t real at all. * * * Staring at the stars tonight no ones knows as well as I you won’t be there to dry my tears, for I’ve forgotten how to cry. ~RME~ Don’t You Remember? Would have sold my soul that day if it would have made you stay and hold me through just one more night and wake together with the morning light I would have been your forever— don’t you, don’t you remember? * * * Don’t you remember January nights filled with us when all seemed right wrapped in silence against your skin didn’t want to let you in didn’t want that heartache again didn’t want forever don’t you, don’t you remember? * * * If you had asked, you would have seen the place where we could have been love made under snowy skies making memories we can’t deny I would have been your forever don’t you, don’t you remember? * * * Don’t you remember hearts turned around you had to feel our barriers come down laying next to you in the firelight I let you inside that night and every night now till forever don’t you, don’t you remember? * * * Don’t you remember January nights filled with us when all seemed right wrapped in silence against your skin didn’t want to let you in didn’t want that heartache again didn’t want forever don’t you, don’t you remember? ~RME~ * * * I remember, Logan… …and I am your forever. ~Ryleigh Your Embrace FROM THE MOMENT his eyes sought mine, two lost souls collided into one, feeding our needs and desires with words spoken in a gentle touch. Understanding spoken with a smile. Empathy spoken with his eyes. The essence of who he is. Through his compassion and strength, I drew from him what I needed, and he from me. This one is for you, Logan. This one is you. ~Ryleigh Who winked and set the stars ablaze and hung the moon between the peaks? Who sprinkled the earth with fairy dust and cast the meadows in moonlit wakes? * * * Who draped the trees in blankets deep and sent wild creatures into flight? Who whispered and asked the wind to still and calmed my fears on a thunderous night? * * * Who sent an angel to save a soul and open a heart once more to grace? Who wrapped this frozen world in warmth? Surely God, and your embrace. ~RME~ Didn’t I Love You Right? ABSENCE MAKES THE heart grow fonder, so it’s said. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s a vessel we use to wallow in sorrow. Sometimes it’s the time needed to heal. Sometimes it’s a necessary vehicle to push forward through bitter times. I wrote this as a way to rationalize my pain, to question what, if anything, I could have done to assure myself things might have worked out differently between Logan and I. The way life unfolds can be construed as what is meant to be, or faith we find in answer to prayer—one we may never know the reason behind the timing, or why it turned out the way it did. ~Ryleigh Let the snow fall, turn down the light gave you everything of mine that night. If I had known you’d walk out that door I would have tried harder to love you more Didn’t I love you right? Didn’t I love you right? * * * Sheltered from the storm outside held you in my arms all night didn’t want to let you go how could I have known even loving you that way you weren’t going to stay Oh-h-h, didn’t I love you right? * * * Held you tight, embraced every inch of you saw it in your eyes, you felt it too if I had known your heart had been so broken would have loved you more with words unspoken Didn’t I love you right? Didn’t I love you right? * * * Sheltered from the storm outside held you in my arms all night didn’t want to let you go how could I have known even loving you that way you weren’t going to stay Oh-h-h, didn’t I love you right? * * * If I had known we would say good-bye I would have kept on walking by would have saved my tears for another day I would never have begged you to stay but your kiss was so brand new I couldn’t help but fall for you and I thought you fell with me that night Didn’t I love you right? Didn’t I love you right? ~RME YES, YOU DID. In all the right ways. It’s the reason my dreams haunted me and your image painted every waking thought, Cabin Number Three. Your touch, your words, every look from the eyes the color of the inside of an ocean wave emulated your passion and love, the kind of love that is right and true in every sense of the word. Yes, you loved me right, Ryleigh, and I’ll spend the rest of my life loving you the way a man should. It’s a promise I’ll not break until the stars fall from the heavens, or God calls me home. I do so love you, Ryleigh Michelle Endicott Collins. And yes, from the first time you pleasured me with your eyes, your touch, your soul, you loved me right. ~ Logan LOGAN CLOSED THE journal and tucked her into his shoulder. “Poetry is when emotion, thoughts, and pieces of your soul become your words. You have a gift Ryleigh, and I consider myself blessed to be a part of it.” From Chapter Thirty-Seven ~ A Promise of Fireflies * * * Available from your favorite retailer Afterword One Writer’s Confessions IT’S ME, SUSAN. I’m back. Sometimes it’s not easy for a writer to contain the creatures we create in our minds and on the page. Ryleigh is a love, but you wouldn’t believe how annoying she became when I refused to listen to her about sharing Ryan’s most intimate thoughts with the world. When I finally warmed up to the idea, I mentioned using her poetry as well. She balked. I tried to reason with her. I would share Ryan’s work, but only if she agreed her poetry would be included alongside Ryan’s. It’s only fair. After all, the same blood courses through their veins and their words flow from inside them with intense passion and insight, yet their experiences and voice are unique. Ryleigh pursed her lips and adamantly refused. Fine. Less work for me. Ryan’s work would remain hidden in his journal. A few months went by and I thought I had completely shoved Ryleigh’s character into the deep recesses of my mind. Boy, was I wrong! I guess it took her awhile to plot a counterattack, and one night I awoke to an incessant tapping inside my head. It wasn’t a headache. It wasn’t hubby’s snoring. It wasn’t the dog. And it wasn’t exactly gentle, nor was it night. At three o’clock in the morning, it sounded like somebody had taken a jackhammer to the inside of my skull. So much for Ryleigh’s normal subtlety. This was payback for being shoved to the fringes of consciousness. Our characters can become quite real, created from nothing but a spark of an idea. They take on a life of their own and Ryleigh returned with a vengeance, making it well known she wanted Ryan’s work to be showcased. When I asked her again about including her work, she vanished once more, and then returned a few days later with a counter offer. Oh dear God, I’ve created a monster. Ryleigh agreed to the proposal that I include her work as well as Ryan’s, but she wanted to write the Foreward. I raised my eyebrows. She raised hers. Stalemate. She must have learned that move from Logan. I don’t play chess. I didn’t know Logan played chess either. He probably doesn’t. But he is an extremely persuasive businessman. I sighed deeply, rolled my eyes and gave in. Ryleigh crossed her arms in triumph and I resigned to writing my two cents here, in the back pages of this little companion to A Promise of Fireflies. When I read what Ryleigh wrote, my hesitation vanished. This lovely woman came through with a brilliant Foreward, and here I am in the back of the book, tattling on her. Nothing like taking a back seat to a character who lives inside my head. Therapy anyone? It’s okay, Ryleigh Collins, I still love you. Oh, and did you notice Logan sneaked his two cents in there? I tell ya, these guys never give up! Maybe now that all is said and done they’ll let me get some sleep. Wait. What? What did you say, Logan? Oh dear…here we go again. It’s not over. Stay tuned, readers, Logan has plans. Will these people ever leave me alone? The poems written in this book are the product of two of the characters in my novel, A Promise of Fireflies. Ryan’s poetry depicts his love for a young woman prior to his deployment to Vietnam in 1967, and the fear, loneliness, and beauty of a country twelve thousand miles from home while serving in the 101st Airborne Division. Ryan left his heart, soul, and body on the battlefield, but he also left his legacy in a blood-stained journal for Ellie and his baby daughter. Love is a powerful emotion that arches beyond comprehensive thought into a vast kaleidoscope of feelings. Ryleigh is many things, but she’s foremost a writer in the modern world, and composes her poetry when a second chance at love is cut short by demons from the past. Encouraged by an enigmatic old man who knows things he can’t possibly know, she writes her words for Logan in a journal identical to Ryan’s. But the only stains on her journal are tears for the man she let slip away. I have a healthy respect for those who serve our country: past, present and future. Without these courageous men and women, we wouldn’t be the great nation we are. And for this, I salute you. While the research I did for my novel was intriguing, in part due to living through this era yet not paying full attention, it also tugged at my heart at what I didn’t know (which was endless) and recalled some things I wish I would have forgotten. It brought back memories—friends and family members leaving for war. Some never came home. Others returned a different person from when they left. Some came home, but never truly left the battlefield. The unease of Vietnam surrounded my family and I. My fiancé’s birthday drew #20 in the Vietnam draft lottery. We both knew he was gone, and would serve his country without hesitation. As luck, or fate would have it, President Nixon called for an all-volunteer military January 27, 1973, less than one month before his number would have been called to duty. I breathed a sigh of relief and we were married the following December. Both my older brothers served during the war. We were fortunate—both remained stateside after enlisting in the Navy. Bill served as an air traffic controller in Oakland, CA, and Mike on the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier in San Francisco while the ship underwent renovations. The Midway is now a museum in San Diego. Now that I’m older, I hear hearts cry for those whose sons, daughters, spouses, friends and family members enlist to fight for this country’s freedom and the freedoms of others. It’s a voice the chosen men and women hear that most of us cannot. They hear the voice and go, not because they are asked to, but because they ask their country if they are worthy enough to serve. Most of those who served in Vietnam didn’t have a choice. Others heard the call and went voluntarily, even during a bloody, unpopular war. And their loved ones waited stateside, day after day for their safe return. A line from A Promise of Fireflies expresses these thoughts: “The only thing harder than being a soldier,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion, “is loving one.” I get it. To our country’s veterans, I salute you. You’ll forever be in my heart and prayers. May God bless you always. I’d like to give a special shout-out to those who served in Vietnam. Your stories, your courage and your willingness to share those stories are what inspired a big portion of A Promise of Fireflies. Without you, there would be no Ryan, no Ben, and no story. So many years have passed, yet the memories remain. My heart goes out to each and every one of you as well as my prayers. There will forever be two white roses, stems crossed, from me, for every name etched on The Wall. A special heartfelt thanks goes out to Bill Wolfe, a marine I knew in high school who, while on military leave, left me with a photograph of himself in full marine dress with the inscription, “this may be nothing today, but tomorrow it may be all that’s left.” Bill died in a car accident a few days later and I never saw him again. I’ve tried to dispose of the photograph, but can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe it’s the respect I feel for our veterans. Maybe it’s holding onto something of the past, of that time. Perhaps it’s a simple reminder of how precious life is. The photograph Ryleigh finds among her mother’s things was inspired by the photograph Bill left me. That part is real and to this day, my heart cries for Bill and his family. I know what it’s like to lose a friend, but I can’t imagine losing a child. And a special thanks to Sherry Hammons, whose brother Kenneth was the inspiration for Ryan’s background. I’m forever grateful to you for sharing Kenneth’s story with me. The dog tags are for you, girlfriend, to hold near your heart for a brother who served selflessly. (You can read Sherry’s tribute to her brother immediately following the Afterword). I hope I’ve given you reason to pause and reflect, to take with you a better understanding of Ryan’s hopes and fears, and Ryleigh’s incessant desire to share them with the world. I thank her for her persistence. She was right. Because of her, Ryan’s words will indeed, live forever. I have to give a huge shout-out to Elizabeth Mackey, my graphic designer, who rescued my cover from a near disaster (my bad) and once again, I have a fabulous cover! I love you, Elizabeth. You’re one in a million. CHEERS! to you, cherished reader, for your love and support. I hope you enjoyed this little companion to A Promise of Fireflies as you climb into the hearts of two very special people spanning the parameters of time from the jungles of Vietnam to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Wherever life may lead you, always remember— Love is Ageless ~ and has the power to change lives… one step, one touch, one kiss at a time ~Susan


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