“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Alan kept repeating to himself as he gazed out across Biscayne Bay from his twentieth-floor balcony. The shadows of the high-rise condominiums that line the Miami shoreline were beginning to stretch out across the bay as the sun slowly settled behind him. He took another sip of his gin and tonic and winced as it was much more bitter than he expected.
The clouds out over the ocean were slowly turning from white to a soft tangerine as the last rays of the setting sun slowly settled on the opposite horizon. Alan’s lips again mouthed the words, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” Today was his sixty-sixth birthday, and in five days, it would be the first anniversary of Colleen’s death.
They had planned this retirement for years. And once their three children had scattered to the winds, there was no reason to stay in Central Ohio. Alan and Colleen’s kids were grown and gone, with lives of their own, raising their families, chasing their dreams – looking forward, not looking back to Columbus. That was the past. That was where they were from, not where they were going.
With the house now empty, the Midwest winters seemed colder. And South Florida seemed more and more inviting. Linda and her mom often discussed them moving to Florida, and the more they talked about it, the more Linda encouraged her parents to make the move. It wasn’t that she wanted them to be further away. It was just that she wanted her parents to be happy and to start enjoying that third chapter of their married life together; to live out their golden years with people their own age and without the pressure and responsibility of raising a family.
For almost a year, things were perfect. Both Alan and Colleen retired from their respective jobs and never looked back; it was a clean break for both. They sold the only house their kids had ever known, sent the dog to live with Linda, and followed the moving van south out of town to Florida.
Over the next nine months, everything fell into place. Colleen made many friends both within and outside the condo – friends to play bridge with, friends in the book club, and girlfriends to simply share coffee and gossip. Alan was just as lucky; the condo had a men’s group that organized fishing trips, poker nights, football watching parties, and most importantly – golf. Alan loved golf but never seemed to have the time for it back in Ohio. Here he had nothing but time, and anytime was a good time to play golf.
The plan was to spend the next twenty years together here in Miami. They had the financial resources to last that long. Then after Alan’s passing, twenty years seemed reasonable; Colleen would regroup with the kids and probably move somewhere close to Linda for the rest of her life. This understanding may have seemed a little morbid, but that was the plan, and they were just being realistic.
Unfortunately, fate didn’t see it that way. Thirteen months after settling into their perfect new life, Colleen was struck by a massive heart attack as she was playing bridge at a friend’s house. She was not feeling all that well on that fateful morning, but it was bridge club, and she didn’t want to disappoint her friends by staying home. Besides, it was just indigestion, and it would pass once she got into the game.
The EMS were frantically summoned at 10:14 that morning. Her friends desperately applied CPR until the paramedics arrived, but two hours later, Colleen was pronounced dead at University of Miami Hospital. It was not supposed to happen this way. The light of Alan’s life had suddenly and unexpectedly gone out.
Alan took another sip of his gin and tonic. The eastern sky was beginning to lighten as a full moon broke the ocean’s surface on the distant horizon. It was the twelfth full moon Alan had watched take the night sky since Colleen’s death. And for the twelfth time in as many months, he sat alone on his balcony silently staring out to sea. As Alan quietly watched the moon make its appearance in the night sky, an unusually bright star slowly rose just below it.
“It’s my birthday, and it wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he kept silently repeating.
Suddenly he was jarred from his stupor by the sound of a loud knock at the door. It was either his friend Sam, who had promised to take him out and get him drunk for his birthday. Or it was the pizza kid delivering the pizza he had ordered. He set his glass down and slowly walked to the door. As he opened the door, to his surprise, it was neither. Well, it was a person holding a pizza. But it wasn’t the usual Hispanic kid with tattoos covering both arms and baggy pants that barely clung to his bony hips.
It was a beautiful young woman. She had steel blue eyes like Colleen’s, but any other similarities ended there. She had dark brunette hair almost to her waist; Colleen was blonde and never wore it longer than shoulder length. The girl had a goddess-like Florida tan; Colleen was fair-skinned and burned easily. And instead of baggy shorts and South Coast Pizza t-shirt, the usual kid always wore; she was wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian print sundress. Colleen wore sundresses, but for some reason, never Hawaiian prints.
Alan just stared. “Pizza,” the girl said with a huge smile. “You ordered a pizza, didn’t you?”
“Uh – yes, I ordered a pizza. Where’s the tattoo-kid?” Alan finally managed to stutter.
Deferring his question with a question of her own, she politely answered, “It’s your birthday, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes,” he said, still searching for words. “And how did you know it was my birthday?”
“Let’s just say a little birdie told me,” she said as she skirted past him and headed for the kitchen.
Surprised that she had just slid around him and entered his apartment without an invitation, Alan quickly closed the door and turned to follow her. “That little birdie wouldn’t be named Sam, would he?”
“Sam? I don’t think I know any birdies named Sam,” she responded with a flirtatious tone to her voice as she set the pizza on the kitchen counter and opened the grocery bag she was also carrying. Alan hadn’t previously noticed the bag, and to his surprise, she pulled out several salads, olives, some sort of Italian dessert, and a bottle of wine, all of which she neatly arranged on the counter.
“I didn’t order any of that,” he protested.
“Oh, it’s okay Alan, it’s your birthday,” she paused, and with an innocent little grin, added. “May I call you Alan?”
He felt his temper flare, but she was just so damn cute – and that smile. “Okay,” he stuttered. “And what’s your name?”
“Stella,” she said as she spun on the balls of her feet, and standing on tiptoes, opened kitchen cabinets to get out plates, serving bowls and wine glasses.
Alan couldn’t help but notice she was getting down two of everything. “Are you staying for dinner?” he inquired, still not sure if he should be upset or not.
“Of course, it’s your birthday. You don’t want to spend it eating alone, do you?” Stella responded with a wink of her eye.
Befuddled and a little annoyed, Alan started to snap – but she was so damn cute. “Okay, okay you’re staying for dinner, I get it. But who sent you?”
She had found Colleen’s pizza paddle and slid the still-hot pizza onto it. “Well Alan, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you. And besides, what difference does it make? It’s your birthday and none of your family or friends wants you to be alone, and more importantly, I don’t want you to be alone either.”
Alan settled on to a nearby barstool and watched in amazement as she transferred the olives and salads to serving bowls, set the table, and even lit candles. “Mind if I get my drink?” he asked.
“Oh no, of course not – but hurry back. Dinner is almost ready.”
As he returned from the balcony, he pushed the sliding glass doors all the way open to let in the sea breeze and pulled back the curtains to allow for the full view of the moonrise over Miami. He started to plop down in his usual chair, but noticed she was patiently standing next to hers. Luckily, he realized in the nick of time she was waiting for him to hold the chair for her, which he quickly did with a smile.
“Stella, this is beautiful – thank you,” he said sincerely as he settled into his chair.
She poured the wine and they clinked glasses. “Many people love you Alan, and they don’t want you sitting up here night after night by yourself,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes.
“Stella, it wasn’t supposed to be this way…” he said before she cut him off.
“I know Alan,” she said, interrupting him. “But you’re here tonight and I’m here tonight. It’s a beautiful evening, the moon is rising – and Alan, your pizza is getting cold. So, let’s not talk about what was supposed to happen. Let’s talk about here and now.”
And over the next hour, Alan talked like he hadn’t spoken in over a year, and Stella listened intently to every word. He also ate like he hadn’t eaten since Colleen’s passing. And as the moon slowly rose above their view as they sat at the dining room table, every morsel of pizza, salads, and dessert were consumed, along with the entire bottle of wine.
Finally, pushing back from the table, happier than he’d been all year, he said, “Let me help you with those dishes.”
“Okay, as long as you’ll sit and have another drink with me on the balcony when we’re done,” she said with a smile.
“It’s a deal, Stella – I can’t thank you enough for the wonderful evening. Thank you.”
It seemed like old times as they washed and put away the dishes. Alan opened another bottle of wine as Stella arranged two chaises side by side on the balcony. From the balcony, the moon was visible again as they settled next to each other and gazed out into the moonlit sky. The moon was so full and bright, almost no stars were visible, except for that one brilliant star that seemed to be following just south of the moon as it rose higher and higher over Biscayne Bay.
“They say love is a tender thing, so why do I find it so painful?” Alan sighed.
“Love is forever Alan, and pain always fades in the face of love,” Stella answered.
She reached over and laid her hand on Alan’s. He responded by interlocking his fingers with hers. Staring out into the night sky, Alan spoke first. “Stella, do you know what I miss the most?”
“Yes,” she said, “I actually do know. You miss the companionship of another person to share your life with. You miss your partner – you miss your wife.”
Alan slowly took a long sip of wine. This girl couldn’t be more than twenty-five years old, he thought. His daughter was older than that. How could she know these things? And who in the hell gave her the right to say them. He had never laid eyes on her before this evening, and yet she seemed to know him better than he knew himself. Who was she?
But the softness of her hand and the scent of her body next to his kept him from asking. The food, the wine, and the moonlight were all taking their effect. Alan was more comfortable, more at ease – more vulnerable than he had been since Colleen’s death.
“Alan,” Stella asked. “I am also your birthday present. I’m sure you realized that by now.”
“What do you mean?” Alan responded, though he actually knew what she meant.
“I’m spending the night,” she said lovingly.
There was a long silence. “Stella, I don’t know who sent you, and I guess at the moment, I don’t really care. I’m honored and flattered, but you can’t spend the night.” There was another pause, “I mean, we couldn’t do anything. I’m sixty-six years old – I’m not the man you are expecting. I’m not the man you deserve.”
She squeezed his hand and leaned over towards him. “You are all the man I need, and besides, I still have one more gift for you.”
Alan hadn’t previously noticed, but she had a small coin purse in her hand that she placed between them and snapped open. Inside was a tiny pill bottle with two blue tablets. She took one tablet from the bottle and held it out for him to take.
“Stella, I can’t. I take nitrates for my heart, and a pill like that could kill me.”
“Alan, I would never do anything to hurt you. This is a light dose, and it won’t interfere with your medications,” she said in a knowing and caring voice.
“Am I healthy enough for sex?” he jokingly retorted, paraphrasing a popular TV commercial and holding the pill to his lips.
“You are tonight, my lover,” she softly responded as she slipped from her lounge chair and onto his – straddling his body at his waist.
Sitting atop him, she offered him the Sirens’ glass of wine. He paused, pressed the pill between his lips, and sipped the wine until the tablet was gone from his mouth. She took the wine glass from him and placed it gently on the table beside them. He sighed in resignation as he knew this might be the last night of his life, but he was powerless to say no to her.
Smiling, she stood, still straddling him, and slid backward until her feet cleared his lounge chair. Now standing facing him, she slipped her hands up under her sundress and pulled her panties to her knees. She then wiggled them to her ankles and kicked them to the corner of the balcony.
Alan realized she was now only wearing one last piece of clothing, the sundress. She had kicked off her shoes while they were doing the dishes, and there was no way she could have been wearing a bra as there were no tell-tail straps or lines.
With an alluring smile, she walked forward and resumed her previous position sitting atop his lap. As she slowly started unbuttoning his shirt, Alan could already feel the effect of the little blue pill. His face was suddenly flush, his eyesight began to blur slightly, and for the first time in over a year, he felt a definite tingle in his groin and the beginnings of that long-lost firmness of his youth.
Stella could also feel it, the unmistakable tightening of Alan’s pants as her bare crotch pressed into his zipper. She gave Alan a knowing smile of approval and a wink of anticipation, as Alan responded with his own smile of accomplishment, but with a slight hint of apprehension and fear.
After pushing his shirt aside, she took another long sip of wine before bringing her lips to his. To soothe the blurring, Alan closed his eyes and soaked in the sweetness of her kiss that lovingly lingered on his lips. His head swirled with memories of so many kisses so many years ago. Stella’s touch and taste, and scent instantly brought back memories of his first date with Colleen.
All the feelings of loss and loneliness vanished as Stella’s soft lips left his and started a long and luxurious journey across his face, around his neck, and ever so slowly down his chest to his belt line. There she sat up, unbuttoned his pants, and lowered his zipper. She then stood, and straddling the lounge chair, pushed his pants down and over his feet that dangled off the end of the chaise.
As she returned to her previous position kneeling just below his waist, she slowly settled on to Alan’s lap and began their sensuous journey to mutual gratification. As the drug had dulled Alan’s normal sensitivity, their voyage to his climatic release lasted longer than he was accustomed to. But he was in utter heavenly bliss and didn’t mind if it took forever.
The warm sea breezes of the Miami evening enveloped them both and carried Alan to an imaginary tropical paradise of his youth. And as Stella so sensuously moved her hips to the sound of a distant Samba band, she was inevitably compelled to cool herself by pulling her last remaining piece of clothing up and over her head before tossing it to the edge of the balcony. She now sat naked atop Alan’s waist, with her dark hair swinging back and forth to the distant rhythm.
When Alan’s moment of fulfillment finally came, it was a total release, unlike anything he had experienced in years. It was like college; it was like the first time he had taken Colleen to bed over forty years ago. It was like they were both kids again.
Alan’s lover collapsed onto his chest, and as he wrapped his arms around her to hold her tight, she responded with like affection. Their bodies seemed to fit so perfectly together. Her scent, her touch, the warmth of her body just seemed so natural. Alan drifted off for a moment into a dream-like sleep. Upon reopening his eyes, he gazed into his lover’s face – it wasn’t Stella at all, it was Colleen!
“Colleen!” he stuttered.
“Yes,” she calmly replied.
“It was you – it was you all along.”
“Yes, my darling, it was me.”
“But – but where did you come from?” he said with his voice choked with emotion.
“From that star,” she answered. “That star just south of the moon.”
“Colleen – that star, that was you?” he managed to say as his eyes filled with tears.
“Yes, my precious, that was me,” she reassured him.
“That star just south of the moon,” he repeated as he struggled to search the sky for the star. “It’s gone,” he said after frantically scanning the night sky. “It’s gone; where did it go?”
“I’m right here Alan, and I’m not leaving you again,” she whispered.
There was a long pause. “Where am I Colleen – am I dead?” he asked.
“No, my beloved, we’re together. Together forever, together someplace just south of the moon.”