Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sauna Part 287

Jon and I woke, fully refreshed, and anxious to begin our adventure. We hopped in the shower and made love again, causing only a slight delay in our plans, and when we arrived in the lobby we found Richie and Eva, Dave and Elena eagerly waiting.

“Thought maybe you chickened out, my man” Richie greeted us with a smile.

“Just got a little side-tracked this morning” Jon replied with a nudge.

“Shit! You two are like rabbits, man! You kept me up half the night as it was!” Richie scowled with affection.

“Okay, people, listen up!” Elena announced, checking her watch. “We need to get down to the heliport right this minute. Let’s move!” she commanded and we filed out obediently behind her.

When we arrived at the designated location we disembarked from the helicopter and we were greeted by a team of four guides. Each pair would have their own “chaperone” and one would remain on the ground to coordinate pick-ups after we landed. There was nothing casual about this operation and these guys were clearly professionals. Despite Dave and Elena’s assurances last night, we realized the inherent dangers that were possible on our journey after the team gave us a thorough safety briefing.

“Okay, are their any questions? Anybody wanna back out before we begin?” the tall man who was quite clearly the “captain” wanted to know.

We all shook our heads and began suiting up and after a final inspection by our respective chaperones to make sure our parachutes were properly attached and in good order, we were ready for take off. Dave and Elena were first in line and I felt my mouth go suddenly dry as I watched them leap off the ledge, hand in hand. The primary danger was getting too close to the face of the cliff as a collision with granite at that speed could be fatal.

I swallowed hard as I watched them fall downwards and I gasped as I saw them spread their arms and catch the current. Shit! They were flying! Really and truly flying! My fear gave way to excitement and I shifted from one foot to the other, nervous with anticipation.

“Okay, who’s next?” our “captain” asked in a loud voice.

“We are!” I heard myself say and Jon started at my side.

“Okay, you heard the lady” he said with a deep breath.

I hugged Richie and Eva and took my place on the ledge, squeezing Jon’s hand harder than necessary. He turned and kissed me and squeezed my hand back.

“Let’s fly, baby!” he grinned and we jumped.

My stomach tensed and for a moment I was afraid I’d throw up as I felt myself falling, falling, falling… I was dimly aware of our chaperone shouting something, but I couldn’t hear what he said and my mind was spinning. I felt Jon’s grip on me tighten as he raised our arms in the air and I opened my eyes and looked out. Goddess, I’m flying! Oh my God, we’re flying! I looked over at Jon at my side and he was grinning like an idiot. We really were flying through the air just like the birds!

I felt the moment we caught the current, but I was too overwhelmed to remember anything I’d been told about what to do. Jon was similarly caught off guard, but he recovered quicker than me and he angled his head and his body so we caught the updraft and flew higher. It was just like I’d imagined in dreams I’d had as a child as we soared through the sky on our “wings”. I couldn’t begin to describe the feelings I had; there was a mixture of exhilaration, fear and freedom as we coasted along on the wind, surveying the rich greens and blues of the landscape.

Maybe it was a touch of hysteria, but I started to laugh and I just couldn’t stop smiling. I squeezed Jon’s hand and he squeezed mine in response as our eyes met and held. We’d had inumerable memorable moments, but nothing like this. It was truly remarkable and amazing! There were times when we seemed almost to be ‘standing still’, frozen for a moment in mid air, and then suddenly we were caught on a gust of wind and we’d begin to pick up speed. It was the most thrilling experience of my life and I was never so glad to be holding Jon’s hand as I was at that moment.

We were in the air for only thirty-five minutes, we later learned, but at the time it felt like a lifetime had passed. I saw only a fraction, if not less, of the country we’d seen from the helicopter and yet I felt like I knew it better. From our vantage point, high off the ground, but not nearly as high as we’d been in the aircraft, we could see details we’d have otherwise missed. I saw birds flying beside us and I could hear the rushing sound of a waterfall we flew near pitted against the silence of the skies. My senses were on hyper alert and I felt more alive than I could’ve dreamed.

When we finally began to start sinking closer back down to the earth, our chaperone yelled “pull the cord” and I heard him this time. Jon and I exchanged glances and nods, knowing our flight was ending, and we pulled our cords together as one. I felt a quick tug as the chutes opened up and we were briefly suspended in the air before gliding downward. We were jolted back to reality when our feet hit the ground, suddenly hard and unyielding after our weightless experience. We stumbled and fell, with me landing almost directly on top of Jon, but aside from a few bumps and bruises we were essentially all in one piece.

Our chaperone landed a few yards away and scrambled over to help us as we’d become entangled in our chutes and the cords. We must have been quite a site as we struggled to get out from under the canvas and our chaperone laughed as he lifted an edge and we crawled out on our hands and knees.

“Landing comes as a bit of a shock, eh? It gets better with practice” he smiled.

“Not exactly my most graceful move, I admit” I giggled, brushing away the stones and leaves that clung to my suit as I tried to sit up.

“You okay, darlin’? Here, take my hand” Jon grinned, finding his “land legs” a moment before me.

“So, what did you think? Are you glad you did it?” the chaperone asked.

“Hell, yeah!” Jon said enthusiastically and I shook my head in vigorous agreement.

“I’m gonna go ahead and call for a pick-up, but it’ll be probably an hour or more, so just go ahead and relax” he advised us.

“Baby, that was truly the wildest experience of my life! I’m so glad you were there!” Jon cried excitedly as he hugged me.

“I’d never have done anything like that without you. I knew I’d be safe as long as you were beside me” I breathed, feeling his strong arms tighten around me.

“Wait ’till we rub it in to the golfers” Jon said with a mischievous glint in his eye. “Hey, where’s the others end up? Are any of them nearby?” he wondered aloud.

“Apparently, the one group isn’t far-about two kilometers away. But that first group ended up quite a bit downstream-they’re over fifteen kliks away. If we start walking that way, and follow the stream, we should run into the other pair” the chaperone answered, pointing towards a little creek shimmering in the distance.

“Let’s go” Jon said and we hiked towards the stream.

After we’d walked for about twenty-five minutes, we heard voices and Jon shouted out.

“Richie? Man is that you?” he called.

“Eva? Where are you?” I called after him.

“Hey, bro, we’re over here” came Richie’s voice.

We followed the sound and soon found Richie and Eva resting alongside the stream with Eva rubbing her ankle. I sat down beside her and I could see it was tender. I gently removed her boot and her sock and I could already tell it was beginning to swell.

“Here, stick your foot in the stream. The cold water will bring down the swelling” I suggested. “Is it broken?” I asked, turning toward Richie.

“No, I don’t think so. I was able to walk on it, but I twisted it when we landed. Don’t tell Teek, okay? Promise?” she smiled sheepishly.

“Eva, when we get back, you should go get an x-ray just to make sure” I advised, a little concerned.

“I’ll never hear the end of it, Trish. Please, I promise, if it gets any worse, I’ll go to the hospital but I really don’t think it’s all that bad” she pleaded.

“She’s not in shock, just a bit sore. I think she just had a rough landing, but we can stop at the hospital on the way back to the lodge if you want” the other chaperone added, inspecting her ankle.

“No signs of bruising” he said to the other chaperone. “Let’s keep it in the water until the crew gets here and then we can decide” he suggested.

“Wasn’t that just the most amazing experience?” she bubbled, changing the subject.

“Yeah, that was awesome! We actually saw birds right alongside us” Richie piped up.

“So did we” Jon added and soon we were all chattering away about what we had witnessed and how it had felt.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sauna Part 286

The weather remained fair throughout the day which had allowed all of us to pursue our various adventures. Richie’s mood had improved tremendously and we had even managed to infect him with a case of the giggles during the jet boat ride. Something about the way the boat kept raising up and then slapping down on the water made me start laughing and I couldn’t stop. Soon Jon caught the giggles from me and then Richie couldn’t help himself either; fun was contagious in this place.

We returned to the lodge, showered and cleaned up before regrouping in the Wine Alcove which Jon had reserved for a private dinner for our group. I was anxious to hear about Tico and Eva’s “funyak” experience, but Dave and Elena’s adventure took center stage for all of us. In truth, all of our tales seemed pretty tame in comparison.

“Fuck! It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done! We were actually flying-just like the birds!” David went on.

“We were literally in the air for forty-five minutes! You could feel the wind currents and use them to just glide over the country. I’ve lived here my entire life, but I’ve never seen anything so amazing!” Elena joined in.

“So how was the landing? Did you guys end up where you planned?” I wondered.

“Well, not exactly” David explained. “Elena and me, well, we held hands the entire time, so we landed together, but we didn’t end up where we were supposed to. It was hard figuring out how to steer yourself and we ended up just riding the currents we caught. Our guide says it takes a few times before you develop a sense of how to really maneuver” Dave explained.

“The guide was amazing-he followed right behind us and when he saw where we were heading he followed us and he landed just a few feet away” Elena added.

“He called one of the team members and they arranged to come get us-we actually spent more time on the ground waiting to be picked up, but it was so worth it. We’re going again tomorrow if anyone wants to come along!” Dave announced, scanning the faces of his audience.

“I’ll go” Richie volunteered. “If you made it back in one piece, I should have nothing to worry about” he grinned, winking at Dave.

“Alright, man! C’mon, anyone else here got guts?” Dave challenged.

“Sounds like a sport for the young ’uns” Hugh smiled, shaking his head and nodding at Tico. “I’m looking forward to golfing.”

“Eva agreed to go golfing tomorrow and I need to recover from the ‘funyaking’ experience” Tico said with a sigh of relief.

“I’ve got a date with a golf club” Jim laughed, holding his hands up to pass on the invitation.

Jon and I looked at each other as all eyes were on us, waiting to see just how adventurous we really were. I remembered the envy I felt watching the bird as it soared over the mountains and fiords and I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Jon started to grin, watching my face, and he knew I was seriously considering it.

“We can skip the wine tour-we can drink wine at home” he prompted.

“C’mon Trish, Dave didn’t kill himself-how hard can it be?” Richie chimed in.

I had to admit I was scared, but I was also intrigued. The wine tour didn’t really appeal to me all that much and it didn’t seem like the best way to see the country. But flying? Well, I couldn’t imagine a better way…

“I’ve never been skydiving or bungee jumping or anything like that and I’m not very athletic…” I hesitated.

“No prior experience needed and you won’t even break a sweat. It’s not like you have to flap your arms or anything” Elena giggled.

“Well…” I said with a grin.

“That’s my girl! We’re in, man!” Jon expressed gleefully with a high five to Dave.

“Teek, honey…” Eva whined.

“I AM going golfing, but if you wanna break your neck, cara, you have my blessing” Tico said resolutely.

“Yeah, c’mon Eva. You and I can be partners while the old farts rest up” Richie snickered.

Tico was torn. It was a challenge he hated to decline, but he WAS actually sore and he DID want to go golfing. He, Jim and Hugh could go play in peace without Eva pouting and it would be good for Richie to have a woman at his side, even if they were flying through the skies…

“Go ahead, at least the grown ups can go golfing in peace and someone’s gotta be able to be here to identify the bodies…” Tico said with the ghost of a smile. He wasn’t thrilled, but he knew better than to argue with Eva when there was something she wanted and he was getting too old for this shit.

“Awww, thanks honey. It’s your reckless disregard for my personal safety that makes me love you!” Eva teased and gave him a hug.

The remainder of the evening passed pleasantly as we enjoyed good food, good wine and good company.


“Trish, you are sure about this tomorrow, right? We can always back out…” Jon prodded as we made our way back to our room.

“Whatsamatter, love? Having second thoughts?” I asked, turning to look at him with a sidelong glance.

“No, I just didn’t want to feel like I bullied you into this” Jon said seriously.

“You didn’t, babe. I just needed some encouragement. It’ll be memorable” I assured him.

“Speaking of memorable…” he grinned wickedly as he unlocked the door to our suite.

Our lovemaking was tender and sweet, slow and unhurried as we gently explored one another’s bodies, searching for new ways to entice more arousal as well as invoking the familiar things that had become part of our ritual. Jon drove me to the edge of the precipice more than once and I gave back as good as I got.

“Baby, I don’t think I can take much more of this…” Jon panted as I nipped at his thighs, raking my nails over the tender flesh of his abdomen.

I was aching myself to feel him inside me and my nipples were so hard that they almost hurt. I hovered above him, testing my own strength which rapidly evaporated when he reached for my breasts, gently flicking their swollen tips. I lowered myself down onto his rigid shaft with a vengeance and he bucked like a young bull being ridden for the first time.

“Aaaahhhh, baby…” he groaned as I rode him hard and relentlessly.

I was so wet that he nearly slipped out and with a sudden growl of frustration, he flipped me onto my back and drove into me like a battering ram. I felt my orgasm building and I matched him, parry and thrust, until he exploded inside me and the waves of my release pulled him along in their wake. He collapsed on top of me, emptying the last of his seed into my well-moistened furrow as I sighed a deep sigh of contentment.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, baby” he crooned in my ear.

“Uhm, yeah” I giggled, too breathless to speak.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Sauna Part 285

“Let’s start a fire” I suggested when we returned to our room.

“Just what I had in mind, babe…” Jon purred as he nibbled my neck and began to undress me.

“Seems Richie wasn’t the only one who had a bit too much to drink tonight” I laughed. “I meant in the fireplace…first” I giggled between kisses.

“Oh…mhhmm, hmmnn…yeah, okay” Jon said finally, tearing himself away and turning towards the fireplace.

I slipped out of my clothes and slid into bed while he busied himself with his task. Despite the warm days, the nights could be cool in this part of the world and the glow of a fire always enhanced the ambience for me. Jon was already glowing and needed little encouragement, but my mind was elsewhere and some added stimulation wouldn’t hurt.

As soon as the fire had caught and was well on it’s way to a solid blaze, Jon turned his attention back towards his initial objective. He looked at me through half slitted eyes as he made his approach, lithely moving closer like a hunter stalking his prey and shedding his clothing like a snake sheds its skin. Our eyes locked and I felt the first blush of desire as it crept up my body, warming me as it spread from my center.

Jon threw off the blankets and pounced, trapping me in the cage of his arms as he buried his face in my neck. My fingers twined in his hair and I shuddered expectantly as he growled low in my ear.

“Baby, I want you so bad” he breathed hungrily into my hair.

Jon’s passion was like a match to a flame and I felt myself ignite at the sound of those words. I opened myself wide and invited him to come claim his prize and he plunged into my welcoming depths without hesitation. I liquified instantly and our bodies melded like molten lava as his tongue delved even deeper, mimicking the rhythm of his body. I drank him in as a sudden unquenchable thirst took possession of me and I let myself go into the flood that consumed me.

Jon may not have noticed my initial reluctance, but he wasn’t oblivious to the obvious hunger he encountered. He lavished me with his kisses and his hands roamed my body, electrifying every nerve in my body. He held back the tide for as long as he could, but it didn’t take long before he was drowning deep in my ocean. When we both floated back to the surface, we looked at each other and giggled.

“Shit, I don’t know where that came from, babe” he grinned rather sheepishly.

“A Valentine’s Day gift from the Goddess” I replied, my eyes drifting towards the clock on the nightstand.

It was twenty past twelve and Jon chuckled. The Gods had amazing timing, he had to agree. He shook his head and rolled off me and pulled me into his arms with a light kiss on my forehead.

“I love you, Trish” he said reverently.

“I love you too, Jon” I smiled as I nestled my head on his shoulder.

Soon the only sound that could be heard from our room was the crackle of flames and the steady sound of our breathing as we drifted off into oblivion. I hoped Richie wouldn’t be too disappointed.


The next morning brought another day blessed with sunshine and only the faintest wisp of a cloud in the sky. We all met for breakfast out on the terrace and we were treated to the sweet sounds of birdsong and the scent of the sea as we hungrily devoured the steaming fresh rolls and good, strong, rich coffee that began our Valentine’s feast. Dave and Elena had been the first to arrive and we learned upon our arrival that Elena was not one to be tardy.

“Where is everyone? It’s nine-fifteen. I thought we were meeting at nine o’clock?” she said, sounding dismayed as she rechecked her watch.

“”You’re entirely correct, dar…, uhm, Elena. We did say nine o’clock, but we tend to be a bit more relaxed when we’re on holiday time” Jon said with a smile. I’m gonna like this girl. I hope Dave keeps her around, Jon thought to himself.

Tico and Eva were the next to arrive followed by Hugh, Jim and Richie about twenty minutes later. Hugh looked a bit wan, but he looked like the picture of health compared to Richie’s bedraggled appearance. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was a bit puffy and it was obvious he hadn’t bothered to shave before throwing on a t-shirt and jeans. Jim didn’t look a lot better. If the circumstances had been different, someone would have teased him about who was responsible for his haggard appearance.

Hugh shot me a look that spoke volumes and I knew that Richie hadn’t been persuaded to trade in his wine glass for a coffee mug later last night. I poured him a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and pushed it in front of him with a look that clearly brooked no resistance. He drank it down without argument while Hugh poured him his coffee and Jim moved the pitcher of Mimosas that was just to his left.

The situation was a bit awkward as Elena didn’t know Richie well, or any of us for that matter, and didn’t really understand what had happened. But she was bright and perceptive and the somberness of the moment wasn’t lost on her and there was no teasing or sarcasm in her voice when she spoke.

“Richie, would you like to try one of these rolls? They’re still warm and it might help you feel better” she offered, passing the basket past Jon and over to me.

“Thanks, darlin’. That sounds good” Richie said in a fog, forgetting the lesson he’d learned just yesterday but Elena let it go.

“It looks like a gorgeous day. Richie, will you come with me and Jon? We’re planning on taking the jet boat ride down the Dart River this morning and the cruise later on into Milford Sound” I said as I passed him the rolls.

“I don’t want to intrude…” Richie began but I cut him off.

“I wouldn’t invite you if I didn’t want your company. We saw the place yesterday from the helicopter and I know you would love it. Please, Richie, will you join us?” I reiterated my invitation.

Richie looked up at Jon before he replied and I saw the look they exchanged. Jon nodded his head almost imperceptably, letting Richie know he was in total agreement.

“Okay then, as long as you’re sure. Sounds like a plan. Jim, d’ya mind if I beg off on fishing again today?” he grinned, taking a bite of the roll.

“No problem, man. I understand. It’s not quite as exciting as you thought, huh?” Jim answered with a look of relief. I could see that he and Hugh could both use a break after last night.

“Nah, it ain’t that. Just too much time to think while we’re waiting for a bite” Richie replied, his eyes on his plate.

The remainder of breakfast went smoothly and the tension evaporated as everyone shared their plans for the day. After a rather humorous argument, Tico relented and gave in to Eva who was determined to see the county from a “funyak” and had told him in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of spending Valentine’s Day on a golf course smacking a stupid ball around a manicured lawn. Hugh volunteered to go fishing with Jim and with that being settled, all that remained was to hear about David and Elena’s plans.

“Bungee jumping!” Dave announced with enthusiasm.

“I thought you wanted adventure” Elena said with a mixture of disappointment and sarcasm.

“Well, my dear, what would you suggest is more exciting than that?” David asked her incredulously.

“Bungee jumping is tame, Goldilocks! Rafting is a step up, but the real thrill is flying in a wingsuit!” Elena said with excitement.

“A what?” we all said in unison.

“It’s new here-it just started and I’ve never done it myself, but some friends have and this would be such a perfect place…” she said wistfully.

“Okay, I’m game, but what is it?” Dave prompted.

“You can either ski or jump off the top of a mountain and then you literally fly like the birds! I guess it takes practice to control where you fly, but there are people who can teach us…” Elena began, her adrenalin pumping.

“So, okay, stupid question, but how do you land?” Tico asked.

“Before touchdown, you release a mini parachute. But before then, you’re literally flying with a bird’s eye view of everything. Oh please, say you’ll try it…it could be a first time for both of us” she cajoled.

“It’s not exactly what I had in mind for our first time, babe…” Dave said hestantly and we all laughed. “but sure, what the hell? This is the land of extremes” Dave relented.

“Damn, boy, she is gonna make you sweat for that first time, isn’t she?” Tico whispered to Dave, unable to hold back any longer, but Elena’s sharp ears picked up what he said.

“Tico, my dear, Dave will need this first in order to prepare him for the other first he’s been so patiently waiting for-wingsuits are nothing by comparison” she said with a smile as she traced her finger over David’s lower lip.

Everyone, even Richie, exploded in laughter as we watched David’s eyes grow wider than saucers and for once he was speechless. He also wasn’t walking too well when he stood up and followed Elena as she went off to make the arrangements.

For those who may not have heard of this new sport originating in Norway, check it out:

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Sauna Part 284

“Eva!” I squealed with delight.

“Trish!” she squealed back as we connected in a heartfelt embrace.

We were all gathered in the common living area between Richie’s suite and ours while we waited for David and Hugh to arrive. Eva and I began chattering away, catching up on all the details of our lives and excitedly sharing any news. Eva knew most of mine as Tico had kept her appraised of the issues between Jon and his mother, Matt and Backstage and I was grateful to not have to recount the events.

“I was so sorry to hear about all of that, but I’m glad that Jon finally pulled his head out of his ass and saw them for what they are. I’ve never been able to stomach his mother and I, for one, am looking forward to a new era without her interference or participation” Eva said bluntly.

“I still wish it had worked out differently than it did, Eva, honestly, I do, for Jon’s sake. But I won’t lie and say that I’m not greatly relieved. I feel so much more relaxed and Jon and I are even closer as a result, but I wish it hadn’t come at the expense of his bond with his mother” I replied.

“Trish, there was no other way. She never gave you a choice and Carol was always an ‘all or nothing’ sort of player. Trust me when I say that Jon’s better off without her in his life. We can’t pick our family, only our friends and our lovers and Jon did a good job when he picked you” she smiled, giving me a hug. “This” she said as she gestured to indicate everyone in the room, “is Jon’s real family.”

It was true. Jon and I both had our fathers and I had my sister and he had his brother Tony, but we’d both been motherless orphans for some time. I felt as close to those in the room at that very moment as I’d ever felt to anyone in my life. I couldn’t imagine feeling more complete or whole if things with my mother had been different and I hoped that Jon felt the same, but I knew he had still lost something I’d never had and that made it different.

“Did I hear Eva actually giving me credit for something for a change?” Jon piped in, having overheard part of our exchange.

“Yep, you heard right. I commend you for choosing Trish as your wife. I think she’ll manage to keep you in line” Eva grinned as she gave Jon a hug.

“Well, for once I agree with you” Jon said affectionately as he gave Eva a kiss on the cheek.

Just at that moment the door opened and Hugh stepped into the room, followed by hoots and hollers and a true brotherly welcome. What we weren’t quite as prepared for was seeing David grinning like a madman as he made his entrance with Elena on his arm.

“Whoohoo! Will you look at that! Looks like the Joker finally found a lady who can disregard common sense and give him a whirl!” Richie jibed.

“Hey, asshole, you just haven’t met any women with taste” David jabbed back, still grinning from ear to ear.

“God bless you, darlin’, you have my deepest sympathy” Richie retorted with mock seriousness as he made a sweeping bow and brought Elena’s hand to his lips. “Please tell us all how this veritable rogue managed to charm such a discerning woman.”

“I can certainly see why you’d need the tips on charm, dark one. And I’m not your darlin’, let’s get that straight” Elena smiled sweetly and David let out a whoop.

“Dayum, bro, she’s got your number” Jon interjected, still laughing.

“And you, Mr. Rock Star-who-can’t follow-the-rules, could stand a lesson yourself. What charm school did you drop out of? The Joisey center for delinquent youth?” Elena snapped back in her best Jersey accent.

“Welcome to the family, my dear. I see you can hold your own with these cads. I apologize for their rudeness” Tico drawled, dripping with charm and a mock look of scorn towards Richie and Jon. “Allow me to introduce the love of my life, Eva, my wife” he added, pulling Eva to his side.

“It’s refreshing to see that some of your friends still remember their manners. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Eva. I’m Elena” she said seriously, but her eyes were twinkling with mirth.

“I like you already” Eva replied with genuine warmth as Jon and Richie just groaned.

“I’m sort of the mascot here. I’m Jim and I’m glad to meet you” Jim added, stepping forward and shaking Elena’s hand.

“I’m Trish, Jon’s wife. I know we’ve already met, but I wanted to officially introduce myself and welcome you to the fold. I’m glad David convinced you to come and allow us to show you that we’re not always ill-behaved” I grinned, playing along.

“It’s nice to meet you officially, Trish, and you have my sympathies” Elena replied, inclining her head in Jon’s direction.

“My wife is correct and please allow me to apologize for my boorish behavior in the past. I’m Jon” he said, extending his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Elena” he added, careful to use her name and keeping his ear a good distance from her hand.

“That’s better, Blondie” Elena grinned, demonstrating that the rules didn’t apply to her and we all turned our attention to Richie.

“I hope you’ll allow me the opportunity to redeem myself and I’m indebted to you for pointing out my lack of polite manners. Let me assure you that I mean no disrespect to you or the Jo…er, Dave… and that I will make every effort to behave myself in the future. I’m Richie, or the Dark One if you prefer, and it is my sincere wish to welcome you to our family, Elena” Richie said as he knelt dramatically at her feet, ready to accept whatever judgment she pronounced.

“Rise, Dark One. It’s reassuring to see that you are capable of showing proper respect and I will forgive your transgressions provided you demonstrate the appropriate decorum in the future” Elena replied, trying to keep a straight face. “But you’re still on probation with me” she laughed as she gave a playful tug on his ear.

“Thank you for your mercy, milady” Richie grinned sheepishly.

We spent the remainder of the time until dinner getting better acquainted with Elena who proved a truly delightful addition to our family. I wished that Hugh’s wife could have joined us as well, but she didn’t particularly like travelling and Hugh shared with me that she was somewhat phobic about flying. If we ever decided to take a cruise altogether, she might join us. I offered to see if I could help her with overcoming the phobia, but Hugh declined the invitation, explaining that what they had worked well for them. Perhaps someday we would take a cruise.

Dinner in the main dining area was a scrumptious affair and we were treated to a variety of mouth-watering choices. The chefs at Blanket Bay were world-class to say the least and two had won international awards for their dishes. We took our time over dinner, savoring each course, and enjoying the rare opportunity to dine together without any rush to hurry off for a show.

“I’m going to need to hire a personal trainer if we stay here for long” Elena announced, pushing back from the table after finishing her dessert.

“I’m with you there, babe” David smiled, patting his stomach. “What do you say we try and work off some of these calories…” he began to which he was met by Elena’s brows arched in warning.

“and go for a walk along the lake” he added tactfully and Elena readily agreed.

We were a rather intense group at times and I thought it a wise move on Dave’s part to give Elena a break from our scrutiny, but the truth was that we all liked her and she fit in just fine. There was some renegotiating over room arrangements since Hugh had anticipated sharing a suite with Dave which obviously wouldn’t work now. Since Richie and Jim were the only other “singles” in our group, they offered Hugh the opportunity to “bunk” with them. The Lodge was full, given that it was Valentine’s week, and there weren’t any other accomodations really available.

“Thanks, man. I sure wasn’t looking forward to horning in on their time together, even if Elena makes David behave a bit longer…and I suspect that she will” Hugh agreed with a smirk.

“No problem, man, but hey, just remember we’ve got company too. Don’t expect a quiet, restful recovery with these two practicing for the bedroom Olympics right next door” Richie said, waggling his eyebrows like Graucho Marx.

“Hell, yeah. You’d think there was an earthquake or something” Jim piped in, shaking his head with a slightly sardonic laugh.

“Speaking of which, Trish, how about if we go and start warming up?” Jon cackled devilishly with a fairly obvious nudge.

“Was that supposed to pass as a subtle hint, love?” I replied demurely.

“Subtle for me” he winked, taking my hand, and meeting my eyes.

“Well, c’mon then, before Richard and Jim start selling tickets” I scolded.

“Sorry there, darlin’. I guess Elena may have a point; I can be rather uncouth” Richie slurred.

Tico and Eva rose too, anxious to have time alone after such a long separation and I bent down to whisper in Jim’s ear.

“I’m so glad you’re here and that Richie won’t be alone” I said softly as I brushed his cheek with a kiss.

“Let Hugh get some rest and we’ll see you in the morning for breakfast” I said a bit louder and Hugh patted my hand as I kissed him goodnight.

“Don’t worry, Trish. We’re switching to coffee as soon as we get back to the room” Hugh whispered to me and I looked at him gratefully.

I hugged Richie tightly and told him goodnight before Jon and I left with Tico and Eva to head off to our suites.