The Gulf of Love

A Rick Beck Story

quillswritersrealm@Yahoo.com

Editor: Jerry W.

Chapter 36
Owning the Cove

 

After leaving Ivan in bed sleeping, I went home to be there when Dylan woke up. He'd begun to sleep soundly through the night and  rarely heard me coming or going. 

I was glad Dylan and Ivan slept well. I couldn't sleep. My mind was a whirl without the ability to focus on one thing.

I contemplated my retiring as a marine biologist. My passion for my career had waned. At twenty-nine I'd been involved with the Sanibel Island Conservancy almost every day since I was seventeen. I was tired. I was adrift as far as my future was concerned.

Ivan wanted us to work together in his growing enterprises in the cove. He was convinced that tourism was coming our way. People wanted to escape the big city rat race for a peaceful vacation.

Popov gave Ivan his blessing for a charter sport fishing business and for the expansion of the Bait Shop to offer a variety of services and sporting goods. The idea of creating more commerce in the cove was appealing. It was an ambitious undertaking. Ivan had the Bait Shop and twelve slips in the marina. It was hardly an empire.

I had no doubt Ivan would accomplish whatever he set out to do. 

I wasn't sure I had anything to contribute to Ivan's plans. I'd been content in my role as a naive protector of the sea. My illusion of protecting the Gulf and things in it had been shattered. The main object in my scientific research had been blown to pieces along with the fantasy that I could protect it.

I not only couldn't stop it. I stood by and watch it happen. That was grotesque. I now knew what it felt like to go impotent. It was startling when I realized I couldn't do anything but run my mouth. It wasn't the first time I had that realization.

It took me two days before I could go back to my laboratory. It was the Monday after Tampa. My plan was to get things in order before anyone else came to work. I needed to file my slides and the notes from the speech I gave Friday night for future Senator Harry McCallister.

One thing I knew for sure, I'd given my last speech. Harry was on his own. I'd given it my all. I was responsible to give Harry more, but there was no more.

I'd get my lab in order and I intended to leave before the regular conservancy staff, including Pop, came to work.

I was twenty-nine. I felt fifty-nine.

 

*****

 

After opening the lab, I went to Pop's shop to fix a pot of coffee. I'd left before breakfast and I needed a cup of coffee. Employees didn't arrive until nine. It wasn't quite seven by the time I poured my first cup.

I couldn't sleep and I felt like I was half awake. I'd stopped by the donut shop next to the A&P, but they hadn't opened. I wasn't in the mood to wait to see what time they did open.

I sat with my slides and the 3x5 cards. Each slide was numbered and I knew what the image was. There were dozens of drawers full of slides. I arranged them by the date they were taken. These were copies of slides in those drawers. They'd simply be filed under Tampa. My notes would be filed by date. I'd file the cards by date.

My files ended with the date 8/10/79.

I separated the pictures from my last trip to my reef from the rest. Once I put the rest of the Tampa slides away. I dropped those last eight slides into my trash can. I never wanted to see them again. The record of my reef would stop while it remained a living organism. It was an irrational act to deny the truth on my part.

The death of my reef was personal. I didn't need to share it with whoever came after me. I'd never kept an official record of the reef's location. In time it would be forgotten where the beautiful slides were taken.

After dropping the eight slides into the trash, I spaced out. My mind simply failed to settle on any cohesive thoughts.

My reverie was rudely interrupted by the man I least wanted to face, after the stunt I'd pulled in Tampa.

“Clayton, can you come to my office?” Harry requested.

It wasn't eight o'clock. Harry rarely came to the conservancy before lunchtime. I wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep.

'Uh-oh,' I thought. 'I might not need to retire.' 

Harry didn't sound happy. He didn't usually page me. He didn't usually come to work until just before lunch.

It was seven thirty-eight.

I'd done what I came to do.

“Oh well!, time to pay the piper for my temper tantrum.”

I didn't know if Harry stayed for my performance but I felt sure he'd heard about it by now.

 

*****

Opening the door to his office, I walked in. I was still drained and I didn't need a lecture at this time of day. I sat facing my boss.

“Someone throttle you last night, Clayton? You look like hell,” Harry said.

“I feel like hell.”

“I had four phone calls before I got out of bed this morning. They weren't happy calls.”

“I remember I didn't sleep last night, Harry. I am questioning what good I'm doing. Regarding Tampa Friday night, I told my story. Sorry! It seemed like a good idea at the time. I know it wasn't the place and it certainly wasn't the time. It is what it is.”

“Clayton, I could use a little help here. I'm trying to understand what effectuated your comments Friday night. This isn't like you. I'm to understand the reef you've been studying for years is gone? Everyone who called was babbling about Clayton's reef. I had to leave the house because my phone hasn't stopped ringing since early, and I mean early, Saturday morning.”

“The reef is gone.”

“Oh my God! Just like that?” Harry said. “It isn't there?”

“Isn't there any more.”

“You didn't tell me this why?”

“You're a busy man, Harry. Why bother you with something that's done,” I said.

“Because I care about you? I care about your work. Things that impact you impact me. I'm worried about you, Clay. People are worried about you. You didn't leave your audience laughing.”

“Sorry. I'm not in the mood for this, Harry. I was up late last night. I'm sorry that I picked Friday to vent my disillusionment. Like the reef, what's done is done.”

“You do know that running for senator isn't a local affair, like running for congress? Senatorial races are covered nationally. I'm elected by the people of Florida, but I become a United States Senator.”

Harry tossed a stack of papers onto his desk.

“Death of a Reef, picture on the front page, Tampa Times. It's on page A-3 of the Washington Post, no picture. Page 12 of the New York Times, pictures on the back page. I got a call from Boston, I don't get that paper but the caller is sending five thousand dollars and a request for Clayton to study Boston Harbor's water. My phone hasn't stopped ringing. It would be ringing here, only I unplugged the switchboard.”

“I told the story about the life and death of a reef, Harry. If you read about it, you don't need my version. It wouldn't be objective. I don't want to say something I'm going to regret. Let's do this at some later date.”

“As I said, I left home to get away from the phone. My concern isn't for my campaign. The donations haven't stopped coming in since Saturday. My concerned is for you.”

“I'll be fine, Harry,” I said. “Just not today.”

“I got pledges of $43,000 this morning while I was still in my pajamas.”

“If you're getting donations, why are you upset? I couldn't have upset too many people,” I said. “I vented. I let my anger out on your donors. I didn't pull any punches. I wouldn't do it this morning, but I did do it Friday night.”

“You upset all of them, Clay. Half the money coming in is for you. These are donations for “Clayton Olson's work in the Gulf.” Mosby, father of the Sea Lab, who told me he'd never pony up again after buying us the boat, donated five thousand dollars. “For Clayton's work and five thousand for my campaign.”

“I'm not sure I'm cut out for this, Harry. I'm glad I moved the needle. It was not a labor of love, I assure you. It wasn't easy telling that story but for me to live with myself, it had to be told, Harry.  I'm worn out, exhausted. I'm through. I'm cleaning up some things in the lab and then....”

“You're depressed. I understand that.”

“That too. I put a lot of work into that reef and I've said all I plan to say about it. It's gone. I'm done. I've had enough. I've been at this full time since I was seventeen. I'm going on thirty. I've given you what I have, Harry.”

“There are few things in this world as beautiful as that reef, Clay. Anyone with any heart would be depressed by its destruction. Beauty is a rarity. People who would destroy it to make a buck are plentiful. I can't tell you this won't happen again. It will,” Harry said.

“The difference between us and them is that we care. Too few of us care. Fewer yet do anything to make it better. You, Clayton, do something. As painful as it is, you stand between the beauty and those who would destroy it. It's an awesome responsibility.”

“I know how it works, Harry. I've been at this for a long time. I'm tired. I gave all I had. There's nothing left.”

Harry looked at me closely. He didn't speak for a minute or two.

“You should go away. Take a trip. School doesn't start for a few weeks. Take Dylan and go away. Don't even call me to say you're OK. Whatever it costs, it's on me. Don't decide anything until you come back. Do it for me, because I'm asking you to.”

“OK. I'll ask Dylan what he wants to do. Getting away sounds like the right ting at this point. I have money, Harry. You've spent enough on me.”

“I'm going to say something to you I've never said to anyone before. You know the story of my father getting sick and dropping the conservancy into my lap.”

“You mentioned it,” I said.

“It was no picnic. My career was over. I inherited my father's career. I was obligated to carry on for him. I had to find my way around the conservancy. Being Harry McCallister meant I immediately took control, but it was my father's baby,” he said. “We exist because Broadmore was rich and he wanted an environmental conservancy to preserve Sanibel Island and the Gulf of Mexico.”

“I know the story, Harry. You put the conservancy on the map. There's nowhere I go that they haven't heard of us.”

“You left out a small piece of the story. I began hearing about a kid who cared about things that came out of fishing nets. That kid was the son of the man who keeps the lights on here. I had an idea. If I could get a kid like that to train as a marine biologist, and work for us, we could actually conserve something, the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

“I sit here waiting to go to the senate and tell our story. Your story. I have no story without you, Clay. You are the conservancy now. I need you to help me do what needs to be done. What you want done. I've never needed anyone before. I've risen farther than my father went now, but I need you if we are to accomplish what we set out to do,” Harry said.

“I can't do it alone. I don't know what you know. Take a break. Don't say anything. Take a vacation. Get away completely.”

“OK! I can do that, Harry. I'll get some distance between me and my work. No guarantees. You made me what I am. You paved the way. I couldn't have asked for more, but I'm afraid it's not about you any longer. It's about me. It's about the rest of my life. It'll take time to sort it out.”

“I'll save these,” he said, putting his hand on the papers. “You'll want Dylan to see these. You'll appreciate them one day.”

“Sure, Harry. Right now I'm going to get a donut and go home. Sorry I'm not up to any more campaigning this year. You'll be OK.”

“I'll be fine. I'll be better when you tell me you're fine.”

 

*****

 

I went home without the donut. Dylan and Ivan were at the kitchen table polishing off sausage, eggs, and potatoes with onions and green peppers.

“Can I have a plate, Mama. I wasn't that hungry before I got here.”

“Coming right up,” Mama said.

“What happened to you,” Ivan said. “You look like hell.”

“So far that is a unanimous opinion,” I said.

“You look just fine, dear,” Mama said.

“Where do you want to go, Dylan? I'm officially on vacation. I just came from Harry's office.”

“Uh-oh,” Ivan said. “I bet that wasn't any fun.”

“He said to take some time off. I told him I was done at the conservancy.”

“You what?” Mama asked. “It's all you've done, Clay.”

“It's all I'm not doing now. He said to take Dylan on a vacation and take some time off.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Ivan said.

“Me? I've never been anywhere but here, Daddy.”

“It's time you went somewhere. If you had a choice of where you want to go, where would it be?”

“We’re going to Disney World, Daddy!”  

“Disney World it is. Why didn't I think of that.”

“Can my father go?” Dylan asked.

“Absolutely, your father can go. Want to go to Disney World Ivan?”

“Can't, Captain Popov asked me to come over today,” Ivan said, pouring me more coffee.

“We'll leave tomorrow,” I said.

“Can't, my boat can come any time. I want to be here when it does.”

“You do know school starts in a little more than two weeks?” Mama said.

“We'll be back by then. Even Disney World will get old in a week, Mama. It isn't home and as I recall, they want to advance him to a class better suited to his intellect. Missing a few days won't set him back too far.”

“Can we ride on all the rides, Daddy?” Dylan asked.

“Every one. You can ride until you don't want to ride any more.”

“Cool!” Dylan said. “We're going to live at Disney World.”

I smiled.

 

*****

When I drove to Ivan's the next morning before we left, he tossed me the keys to his new Buick.

“Love to go with you guys, but my boat is due any day and I'm trying to get the Bait Shop clean after years of neglect. I've got Taggart to help me until school starts. He's a senior. He can only help when he isn't in school.”

“I wish you could go. I've seen you every day since you came home, Daddy-O. I'll miss you,” Dylan said.

“It's not like we can't go back to Disney World. In fact, you  scope out the neato rides and it'll save us a lot of time when I go along,” Ivan said. “You guys have fun. I'll be here working my fingers to the bone.”

“Cool,” Dylan said. “It'll keep you off the street.”

“Keys are in the Chevy,” I said. “Thanks for the loaner.”

“Keep it under 80,” Ivan said. “Tickets get expensive above that.”

 

*****

Driving the Buick was like entering a time warp. It had power everything. Even the seat went in all directions at the touch of a finger. It was a smooth ride. With the top down it was a vacation just driving to Orlando.

Keeping up with Dylan was no easy feat. He was quick as a cat. No sooner did we get off one ride and we were racing to the next.

“The faster we go, the more rides we can get on, Daddy,” Dylan explained.

Walt Disney certainly understood how to entertain children. At the end of each day we were both worn out and didn't have energy to go to dinner. 

We stayed until the morning before school started. Dylan wanted a few more days, but I needed some rest from our vacation.

 

*****

 

Dylan wasn't done being entertained. As soon as he walked into the kitchen, a new schedule developed.

“Oh my God! You can't go to school looking like that. He needs a haircut, Clay, and you can't wear sneakers to school. We'll stop and get a new pair of shoes for school. I better get him some shirts and slacks. He's grown since school let out. Nothing will fit him from last year.”

Dylan looked at me hoping for rescue, but Mana had her apron off and Dylan by the arm.

“Good luck, Dylan. Looks like the rest of the day is planned.”

 

*****

 

Both Dylan and I were dragging by dinner time.

Ivan wasn't at dinner. Mama said he'd been gone almost all week. The only thing he said was he was working on the Bait Shop and Tag wouldn't have as much time to contribute once school started.”

At the end of the day, when I went upstairs to read to Dylan, my son had passed out.

We hadn't stopped moving for nearly two weeks. I lay on my bed with the book in my hand.

*****

 

“Clay, Mama wants to know if you're going to eat before taking Dylan to school?”       

“No, I'll eat when I come back. I'm ready,” I said, still having on my clothes from the day before. “Is Dylan up?”

“He's in the kitchen. He tried to wake you up an hour ago.”

“Guess I was tired,” I said, sitting on the edge of my bed. “Thanks, Luce.”

 

*****

 

“You going to work, Clay?” Mama asked.

“No,” I said.

Mama gave me one of her looks of concern. I could see the worry etched into her brow. There was nothing I could do to help.

I walked up to Ivan's, but he wasn't there. I sat on the deck outside his bedroom and watched the blue green waters spread out forever in front of me. I watched the birds come and go from the logs. 

I believed Ivan needed a break too. We'd been together since April, but he was developing his plan for a future in the cove. We hadn't been separated for long since he'd come back to our beach.

Ivan did want to take people charter fishing and it sounded like the boat was on the way. All he needed were people who wanted to go sport fishing. Whatever Ivan wanted to do was fine with me.

The closer he did it to me the better I liked it.

Once Ivan knew that I was questioning my career as a marine biologist, he offered to buy me a boat and we'd run two charter fishing boats. If there wasn't enough business for two boats at first, I could teach SCUBA diving and take divers out on dives.

If tourists began coming to the cove, they could fish one day and dive the second day. I wasn't ready to decide my future yet and we agreed to let the dust settle before I made any long range plans.

I once loved fishing. I could learn to love it again. It's where I got my start on the Gulf.

The Chevy was parked at the marina. The keys were in it. I parked the Buick beside it and walked onto the pier. I didn't walk as far down as Mr. Aleksa's boat. That was too far and too close to Sea Lab. I saw it looming in its slip, towering over the other boats.

I wasn't interested in seeing it up close.

I turned to go back to the Chevy. I'd leave Ivan's keys in the Buick. As I reached the stairs, I saw activity around the Bait Shop.

I walked over. The windows were clean. A neon sign in the window advertised, 'SCUBA tanks Filled.'

I opened the door and walked in.

Ivan had his back to me. He was arranging a display with SCUBA gear. He turned to look at me.

“Yes, sir, may we help you?”

He had his shirt off. His muscular chest glistened, although it wasn't hot inside. I traced his muscular lines with my eyes. He watched me as I looked my man over.

“Wondering if you guys were coming back.”

“Where's Pete?” I asked.

“Popov's man. He wouldn't work for me. Actually, he wouldn't work. Hey Tag, I'm thirsty. Bring me a soda, and don't take all day.”

I stepped back, stunned by what Ivan said.

“Yes, sir, boss. I's gettin' it. I be coming.”

Taggart raced into view like he was on a mission.

“Here you goes, boss. You best be taking a break. You be sweating and everything,” Taggart said, fussing around Ivan, wiping the sweat off him in a way that made me seriously uncomfortable.

“You cut it out and get back to work. You'll do anything to keep from working. You're all alike, shiftless and lazy.”

My mouth dropped open.

“I's a going. I's a going,” Taggart said obediently.

“Taggart, have you lost your mind,” I said.

Both of them became hysterical. They laughed and laughed. Taggart stood by Ivan with his arm over Ivan's shoulder.

“I told Ivan we could get you going,” Taggart said.

“You sure did. You over acted or I'd have bought it hook, line, and sinker.”

They laughed again.

“This doesn't look like the same place, Ivan. It's clean,” I said.

“Come with me. I've got something to show you.”

We went outside and around back, walking to where some black plastic covered something leaning against the back wall.

With a flourish Ivan revealed a neon sign.

'Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop.'

Taggart is hooking up the compressor to fill air tanks. Boy's a whiz with stuff like that. He'll come twice a week and fill tanks.”

“That's a great sign,” I said.

“I'm advertising. We have coverage in the county papers and in the Vacation Times. We are the sleepy village with deep sea fishing, diving, and boat slips for rent.”

“Slips?”

“We're going to add twelve slips for the new business. Double the size of the marina.”

“You've got big plans,” I said, as we walked around front.

A man carry air tanks walked up from the dock.      

“Your sign says you fill air tanks?” a rather substantial man asked.

I wasn't certain how he got all that mass under water/

“Sure do. Take them inside. I'll be there in a minute,” Ivan said.

“It's nice, Ivan. I like it. You have a customer.”

“Let me go make some money so we can buy a boat for you.”

“Yes, sir, you need both tanks filled?”

“That would be my guess,” he said with no humor in his words.

“Tag, we have a customer. Can we fill this man's tanks?”

“Sure thing, boss,” Taggart said, coming out to get the tanks. “I have that compressor running like a top.”

As Taggart reached for the tanks, the man moved his leg in the way of Taggart's hand.

“You can't fill them for me?” He asked Ivan, ignoring Taggart.

“Well, yes, I can, but I pay Tag here good money to fill tanks.”

“I want to be sure I have air in them when I go into the water. You fill my tanks,” the man more ordered than asked.

“What's wrong? Taggart too tan for your taste?” Ivan said, moving to within a foot of the man.

“I'd feel more comfortable if you fill them.”

“you want a white man's hands to pump air into your tanks? I'll tell you what, this is the man who fills air tank. You want your tanks filled, he fills them,” Ivan said succinctly.

“Is the owner around? I want to speak to the owner,” the man said.

“Owner? Owner! He was here a minute ago. Oh, I'm the owner. Yes, may I help you, sir. Do you wish to place a complaint about the color of my help? I'm afraid that's the only color he comes in. Palmer's! Eight miles that a way. They fill tanks. They're very white. You'll like their air.”

“I have a slip here. I'd expect a little more courtesy,” the man complained.

“You have a slip here? Funny thing about that. We're about to do construction. The last two slips will need to be empty. I'm expanding.”

“You can't do that,” he said. “I didn't rent from you.”

“You're renting from me now, but you're in luck. Palmer's! Eight miles that way. They have slips. I'll give you a full refund of course,” Ivan said.

Ivan removed his wallet, counting out thirty dollars, stuffing it in the man's shirt pocket.

“You can't do that.”

“I just did. Palmer's! Eight miles that way by road or by water,” Ivan said pointing south as the man turned red .

Grabbing the tanks, he swung open the door.

Looking back, he said, “You have no idea who you're fucking with.”

“Yes, I do,” Ivan said happily. “You're the bigot who doesn't have a slip for his boat.”

The air lightened considerably once the unpleasant man left.

“Tag, you cost me any more customers and I won't be able to afford to pay you,” Ivan said with a smile.

“That's OK, boss. You don't need to pay me. I'll work for you for the entertainment value. Thanks, Ivan. That was nice.”

 

*****

 

We were all at dinner that night. Dylan was dragging from a hard first day of school. Ivan was delighted about getting the doors to the Bait Shop open. They were coming to hang the sign the next day. 

“Harry was asking about you, Clay,” Pop said. “You going to talk to him? He's worried about you.”

“I'm not ready to talk yet, Pop. I don't know what I want to do.”

“Seems to me you've done pretty well working for the man,” Pop said.

“Seems to me that I'm not ready to talk about it yet. I haven't decided what I'm going to do. I don't want to waste his time.”

“You need to call the man,” Pop said and we left it there.

 

*****

 

Later, after Dylan went upstairs, I asked Ivan if we could go for a ride in the Buick with the top down. 

“What are you going to do, babe?” Ivan asked. “I still have some openings on my staff if you're interested.”

“Beats me. You have any suggestions.”

“I've got one boat to take out charters. I can order another one. It only took three months to get that one,” Ivan said. “Christmas is coming. I could give you the boat for Christmas.”

“Christmas is in December,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” Ivan said.

“It's the first week in September,” I said.

“Gives me time to find the right boat.”

“You bought the Bait Shop. You bought the marina. You've bought a boat for charters fishing, and boats don't come cheap. You can afford another boat?”

“In a word, No, but I'm a man with means. I can borrow the down payment. Popov is all in on my plans. He'll lend me what I need if the boat is for you.”

“I'm not ready to decide anything right now. You've spent a lot of money getting a foothold in the cove,” I said. “What did you do to earn so much money?”

“I told you, I was a listener. Governments came and went while I listened. What I heard helped some of them go. There's a bonus any time my people got an outcome they wanted. Your money is also part of what bought this empire in the cove. You own a thriving business right on the beach to boot,” Ivan said.

“Beach?” I said. “A boat ramp and a parking lot that was created by the fish warehouse dumping it's oyster shells there doesn't qualify as a beach.”

“I admit it takes imagination to see it,” Ivan said.

“I know if you set out to do something, it usually gets done. I'm sure you'll succeed in the cove,” I said.

 

*****

 

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“The marina,” he said.

“It's getting dark. You aren't going to work?” I said.

“I have something to show you.”

He pulled into the parking lot at the marina next to the boat ramp.

“You see Popov's boat?”

“Yes,” I said.

Look to the right. That shiny new boat with the two red marker lights on it.

“I see it.”

“That's our first boat.”

“It's big,” I said.

Ivan kissed me and hugged me to him.

“It's just the beginning, babe. We can do anything you want to do. We can become whatever you want to become. We'll do it together,” Ivan told me.

We sat holding hands and watching the final minutes of the sun setting on the cove. It was quite lovely.

“You carried the load for long enough, hot stuff. Take your time deciding where you want to go from here. I'll furnish the money to keep things moving.”

“We need to head back to the house. Dylan will be waiting for me to read before he goes to bed.”

“He loves that,” Ivan said.

“I look forward to it too. It's a time I can depend on to be peaceful and relaxing,” I said.

 

*****

“Where is junior?” Ivan asked, after we came into my bedroom after coming up the stairs at the side of the house.

We went together to the door between Dylan's bedroom and mine,expecting to find him reading . Dylan was face down on his bed with one arm around his teddy bear. He was sound asleep.

“He keeps growing like he is and I'm going to need to buy him a bigger bed or a bed for that damn bear. You sure hit a home run with that gift, Ivan.”

“When I saw those bears, I knew whose names were on them.”

“Disney World wore him out,” I said. “He's still dragging. We did not stop from the time we left here until we got home.”

“I'm sure the first day of school didn't help,” Ivan said. “We need to close this door so we don't disturb our kid, honey bun.”

Ivan gently close the door. He turned to face me.

I found myself moving backward, until i was lying on the bed with Ivan on top of me.

The kisses were sweet and plentiful. They lingered as our bodies commingled.

I may not have known much, but I knew that I loved Ivan as much as I was capable of loving anyone.

If I didn't know I loved Ivan as completely as I could before, I might think I loved him even more now.

“Have I ever told you that I love you?” Ivan asked.

“Do tell,” I said. “Haven't I seen you around these parts before, sailor?”

“You have. I've admired you for some time. I'd like to show you how much.”

“I just happen to have tonight open, sailor,” I said.

“I love you, babe,” he said.

Life was good.

 

The End

Postscript

 

       Later that night:

 

“You OK, babe? I'm worried about you,” Ivan said, one big arm around me as his face stared into my face.

       “You remember when you came back to stay and I told you I didn't trust you.”

       “Hard thing to forget, Clay. I'm doing my best.”

       “I know you are and I've never been prouder of you than I was today at the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. You're a good man, Ivan Aleksa. I trust you more than I've ever trusted anyone.”

       “I did what came natural. Tag works for me. If your employer won't stand up for you, you don't have much of a job.”

       “You did it magnificently and that's why I love you so much,” I said, and our lips caressed.

       Ivan pulled back a few inches.

       “I know this isn't an easy time for you and I've told you that whatever you want, I'll make it happen. We can bring a new vitality to the cove and provide jobs for people who fall in love with the place.

       “The thing is, when I first came back to you, the things we did,  the three of us, were so much fun. It was a great homecoming.”

       “I was happy. I had the two people I love most with me.”

       “And it was good. The sparkle in your eye, the joy you took from the activities was a testimony to the love you have for what you do. You shared it with us. You've never been more radiant,” he said.

       “I saw your slides. I heard you soaring as you told about your reef. You fell to earth at the end. Everyone saw it. Everyone felt your broken heart, Clay,” Ivan said softly.

       “I can't do anything to bring back your reef. If I could I would. It's gone. There is a lot more to saving the Gulf than one reef. You have the knowledge and the ability to help people understand how important it is to save the Gulf,” he said.

       “Save the Gulf and other bodies of water are saved. You don't work in isolation. Everything you do, everything you've done, has a greater value than all the money we'll make in the cove. Tell me what you want to do, I'll help you do it,” Ivan said.

       “But you have a gift, Clay. In the ten years I've been gone you've achieved stature as a major force among marine biologist. That couldn't be easy to do. You need to think about what you're giving up. I'm asking you to think about that. Nothing we do in the cove is as important as what you've done in the Gulf.”

       He kissed me gently.

       “I will,” I said, kissing him back.

       What I knew, I was going to love Ivan and our son forever.

       What I didn't know, what direction my life went in from here.