Casey would have been here today, her birthday. He should have been here today. He'd set out five states away from her the day before yesterday, but he had only made it to the edge of the first state before the thirty-car pileup on the fog-bound river bridge. He'd sounded so excited when he called her that last time from the rest stop just before the river. He said he had something special to give her and something important to ask her.

Beth turns onto her back in the chaise lounge in the garden pavilion. She tries to open her eyes, but the fear of being fully conscious and the pull of the sedatives drags her further and further into oblivion. She is exhausted, completely wrung out, and should be all cried out, but yet she still feels like bawling and can't turn off the tears, even in drugged repose. She feels so hopeless and helpless. And empty.

A puff of breeze wafts through the pavilion screening and brushes across her cheek, drying, if only for a moment, the tears that won't stop flowing. Like the teasing of Casey's breath on her cheeks and closed eyelids that he liked to use to signal the start of their love-making. She moans and slits her kimono open off her naked body, half in remembered response to her departed lover and half to welcome the slight breeze slicing through the hot, humid air flowing in from the Gulf.

A whisper on the afternoon breeze. Casey, beginning his worship of her body. Murmuring his awe of her naked body, opening like the unfolding of a lotus blossom to him. The brush of his kiss on her dimpling breasts and tightening nipples as, like the breeze now drifting across her exposed breasts, he gently blows on her burnished skin and then lightly plays with her nipples with his lips.

Beth sighs and, in her half consciousness, brushes her fingers across her nipples, making them taunt and tender to the touch. She moans as she had moaned for Casey's attentions there.

Her other hand slides down across her belly, gently caressing her skin as it moves, just as Casey had done with, first his strong, sensuous fingers, gently circling and descending and spreading, and then with his full lips and darting tongue. Ever lower, ever closer, ever more arousing.

The breeze stops and Beth groans. A terrifying moment of loss and unbearable sorrow. Her eyelids flutter. The light is growing dimmer. Another day stealing away. Another day separating her from the presence of Casey. She cannot bear this. She tightly closes her eyelids and shudders, forcing herself deeper into sleep and dreams . . . and into never-ending despair. The breeze steals back into the pavilion. Beth settles again and her fingers continue their descent.

She has centered them now, and she parts the labia, just as Casey would do. She touches the tenderest if spots with her forefinger and begins to rub it gently in a familiar circling motion. She wills herself to feel Casey's touch, pulling him back from the beyond with all her might. And she sighs and moans as she feels the touch of his lips on her there. And the flicking of his tongue. She begins to move her hips to his touch and to make small, meowing sounds at the back of her throat.

Her fingers slide further in, and she begins to moisten and to move in a slow, rocking motion. She feels the weight of Casey on her now in the hot, humid afternoon air coming off the Gulf waters. There's a humming noise. Is it a motorboat out on the water moving past? Or is it that low, humming, fully aroused sound Casey made when he was preparing to slide into her? Or is it just she, herself, responding to her own summoning of her lost lover?

She opens her legs to the deeper penetration of her fingers . . . of Casey entering her, filling her, stretching her, and then moving inside her, matching the undulations of her pelvis with deep sliding, powerful, yet gentle, fully possessing thrusts.

Beth groans and moans. A deep, full-throated sound. The sound of Casey nearing his climax deep inside her. Her own flow and tightening and frenzied twitches. Once, twice, three times. A guttural cry. A shared death. A deep sigh.

Running her hands back up across her belly and breasts. Murmuring her love and acceptance of Casey's homage and attention.

One of Beth's arms extends out and her hand brushes across the surface of the side table. She feels cold metal. Something unexpected. She forces her eyes to slit open and focuses her mind to the edge of consciousness with great effort.

Looking over at her side, she sees it. A gold heart-shaped locket on a gold chain.

A surprise. This wasn't there before, was it? She fights hard to concentrate on it, picking out at last the word engraved on the filigree surface of the locket. 'Beth,' it says. Turning it over and regrouping her effort to concentrate hard again. 'Casey.' Think, think. Casey said he was bringing her a surprise. Is this a surprise? Has this suddenly appeared, evidence of Casey's visitation, his homage of love across the great divide? Or his real presence? Casey here, on the afternoon breeze, not gone? Thump, thump. Beth can feel the rapid beating of her heart deep inside her - where she had given entry to her lover. Only to him. To no one else.

The thumping grows dull, mournful. Was this brought to her earlier today? A token to assuage her grief, brought by that nice, soft-spoken woman? Think. Think. Was that woman here today? Or was it man? Or was that last week?

But Beth doesn't want to think. She doesn't want to feel. She wants the comfort of her own reality - if just for now. She gives in, willingly. to the pull of the drugs. Clutching the gold locket to her moist breast, she lays back on the chaise lounge. Holding on to the feel of Casey on her skin and deep inside her. The presence of Casey on the afternoon breeze of her birthday.



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