Brent swallowed back pain as he watched Lauren slumber. He had spent the last half an hour reliving a lifetime of memories with this woman. Bouncing between silent laughter and burning tears. Only one common thread…how had they come to this?
It certainly was not from lack of love. Not just on his part, either. Even seven years after the divorce, he did not doubt that she still loved him. He remembered that final day, standing outside the courtroom with their solicitors, waiting to be called into the judge’s chamber. Against the advice of counsel, he had managed to convince her to speak with him alone.
“Why, Lauren? Why?” he had pleaded. “You know you still love me…”
She could not even look him in the eyes when she answered, but he heard the tears as her voice cracked, “Sometimes even love is not enough, Brent.”
It was another of their many differences of opinions. Differences that Brent had always considered their greatest strength – until that day anyway. This woman had always balanced him.
One of his hobbies, as they traveled, was local folklore and religions. Every time he thought of Lauren, it was as the yang to his yin, which had made the last seven years living hell. Only his daughters and the sense of purpose that he felt from his work, in particular, this project, had kept him going. Regenesis, as he had named it, was the culmination of his life’s work.
Their lives’. And it had felt so strange without her.
Putting into action all the ‘crazzy’ ideas on permaculture, regenerative culture, and sustainable living that they had shared late at night, sometimes freezing in tents, others sweating in huts. All the tidbits that they had assimilated from this culture and that as they explored the world’s magnificent wonders together. All of it, alone now.
The tears burned his eyes again as he turned to stare out the window. He wanted to believe that theirs might have a happy ending now. And that this week she had given him, or he had taken, depending upon how you looked at it, that this week would bring them back together.
But over the past seven years, Brent had become jaded, bitter. He had given up hope. Hope in happily ever after. Hope had once seen him through some of the most devastating acts of Mother Nature and the horrific actions of man against man. It had all been stolen from him with the single swipe of a judge’s pen on a piece of paper.
Lesser men might have turned to alcohol or drugs. Maybe in some way, he had. Perhaps that was what his theories and Regenesis were. Nothing but the drugs of a walking dead man.
He knew that she would undoubtedly say so. And he doubted very much that even this latest development would change Lauren’s opinion of that.
He turned back from the darkness outside that window to look at her once more in the low light of the cabin. Even after seven years, she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Oh sure, she was never comfortable with her freckles and red hair. Ginger, she called it. He could not stop his fingers from reaching out and rubbing a strand between his fingers. It was so much less than he wanted to do. His heart and body pleaded with him to bury his hands in the molten fire. To draw her closer and silence all her protests with a kiss so explosive that it would rate a VEI 8.
Instead, Brent merely laced his fingers through hers as he leaned back and closed his eyes on what he knew would be more dreams of the past. Because that was all, he had…bittersweet memories of a lifetime with her and two beautiful daughters.
As bitter as they could be, even if he had known how it would all end, he began to hum, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have to miss the dance.” He sighed as he gently squeezed her hand and wished for things that never would be.
Lauren awoke suddenly. She gripped something warm, soft, and firm in her left hand. She felt the roll and lurch of the plane as it shifted direction. For a moment, her mind was clouded and confused. Where was she? Then it came crashing back to her like the first wave of a tsunami.
She was on a plane with her crazzy ex-husband, her daughters, and her grandmother. They were headed towards some secret location in the United States that Brent would not disclose to her. All because of another of his ridiculous doomsday theories. A string of volcanic eruptions that would release so much sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that the earth would be cast into a mini Ice Age.
Lauren berated herself for giving into him. Into them, her grandmother and oldest daughter were in on this too. She should have stood her ground. She should have called the police or the airport authorities or someone. She should have stopped Brent. Looking out into the night sky, enveloped in ominous grey clouds, Lauren cursed her stupidity.
When whatever she was gripping squeezed her fingers back, Lauren turned her head to stare into the most breath-taking blue eyes she would ever see. The eyes that always got her into trouble.
“Where are we?”
“We are over the Canary Islands right now. The pilot had to re-plot our route. Katla blew just after we took off. It was not safe to fly the northern route.”
“Well, Iceland does have the highest concentration of active volcanoes.” Lauren knew that this relatively normal geological event would only play into Brent’s ludicrous hypotheses.
“I am just hoping that La Palma stays quiet long enough for us to make it across the Atlantic.”
“Brent, you of all people should know how common eruptions are along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A single eruption, no matter how big, does not prove anything.”
Brent’s expression darkened. “Are you willing to listen to me, Lauren?”
With a heavy sigh, she nodded her head. “Brent, you know I have always been willing to hear you out on anything. Even when we disagree.”
Her mind went back to those dark days after Elise’s birth. As they began to notice increasing developmental delays in their daughter, they had sought out the experts. Each doctor’s visit had seemed to result in another fight.
Brent opened the laptop that sat on the table in front of them. “I always loved arguing with you, Lauren. No other mind has ever challenged me as yours does. Not since that first day.”
His expression softened, and once more, Lauren remembered that little boy who had sat on the green grass, their friends gathered around him as they munched on sandwiches for lunch. Brent was refuting much of the science on space and time travel that their guest lecturer had spoken about in the morning session.
He quoted Einstein’s theory of relativity, mixed liberally with the science fiction of Star Trek and Star Wars, to justify his theories of wormholes and alternate universes. Lauren had listened in awe for several minutes until finally, she could not hold back. “Yes, but…”
It had become the theme of their lives, it seemed. Lauren was always the one that stood up for accepted theory, questioning Brent often. Even when years later, he was the tutor and she the student, she had often spoken up in class, highlighting points that sometimes conflicted with his.
Of course, their friendly disagreements had taken on new fervor after Elise was born. They might have both wanted the same thing for their child, but they had markedly different ideas about how to achieve that outcome. It was one thing to disagree over scientific theory. It was another to fight over your child’s future.
The screen came to life. Lauren turned her attention to it and his deep baritone voice that washed over her skin like the warmth of a bubbling hot spring fueled by earth’s unstoppable natural forces.
“Alright, we agree on the basic mechanics of the carbon cycle that removes excess carbon dioxide and stores it in sedimentary rock on the ocean floor.” Lauren nodded her head in response. “In subduction zones, this rock from one plate is forced under the colliding plate, resulting in hydration melt.”
“Is this Volcanism 101, Brent?” Her annoyance with him bubbled over.
He chuckled, “Not at all, just establishing theory that we both agree upon.”
“Yes, but instead of drawing straight lines from point A to point B, you twist accepted theory to suit your hypotheses.”
“So, you see absolutely no connection between the recent increase in volcanic activity along the Aleutian Islands and the massive increases in carbon dioxide in the last century? To previously unheard of levels, I might add.”
“Brent, that’s a major jump. You know that these things are cyclical. Volcanoes can be dormant for decades or even centuries and then erupt. For no reason.”
“Yes, but there is also the effect of glacial melt. As millions of tons of ice melt, the land beneath it can expand like a spring. The resulting tectonic shifts and earthquakes can open new fissures for this melt to rise. I believe those forces are what we see in action in Iceland.”
“Even if you are right, Brent, that is just a small portion of the picture. There are dozens of other recognized geological factors at work here. Besides, you are talking about apples and oranges. Iceland is not the subduction volcanoes that recycle carbon dioxide. They are divergent, tearing apart to build a new ocean floor.”
“Yes, but the earth is a holistic system. What effects one zone will have ripple effects on all others eventually.”
“And that is where you get this ridiculous idea that we are entering another stage of the Holocene period…another Ice Age brought on by a series of volcanic eruptions…”
“The likes of which has not been seen in written human history…over forty thousand years in the making,” he finished for her. It was a habit that had once endeared him to her, the ability to complete her thoughts.
“That might play well in some late-night movie on the sci-fi channel, Brent, but we are trained scientists, and I don’t have to tell you the huge gaps in your theory.”
“I know. I felt the same way until Monique Fournier and I spoke. Her paleo-climatology theories regarding the origins of the last Ice Age filled in those gaps perfectly.”
“Don’t talk to me about that French hussy. She is not interested in real science, just getting her face on television.” Lauren bit her tongue to keep from adding ‘and into your bed.’
Brent shrugged his broad shoulders as the computer screen filled with a map of the globe dotted with red and yellow specks that Lauren knew represented volcanoes.
“This is a simulation model that I just finished. The bar on the right is calibrated to global carbon dioxide levels. Watch what happens in terms of eruptions as I run the last hundred years of human history.”
Lauren noted that each time the bar reached into the red zone, it was followed shortly thereafter by a light show representing global volcanic eruptions.
Brent leaned forward and touched another button. “This is a forecast model covering the last ten years of emissions. If the previous patterns hold, this is what the model suggests will happen.”
Lauren watched as the screen lit up like lightning strikes hovering above an erupting volcano. It began with red flashes in Iceland and moved slowly south through the Aegean to the Canary Islands and then across to the Caribbean. Dozens upon dozens of eruptions at places she recognized, areas they had studied. Vesuvius, Crete, Etna, La Palma, Montserrat.
She shook her head in denial, “That is just a model, Brent. A pretty light show. There is no clear-cut scientific evidence to support it. You know the weakness of correlation studies such as yours. Even if an increase in eruptions preceded a period of increased carbon dioxide emissions, that does not establish a causal link. There could be any of a thousand other factors at work to explain the phenomena.”
Brent threw up his hands in frustration. “You always were as stubborn as a red-head.”
A soft chuckle from the seat behind them caused Lauren to turn. “Yes, boy, we know she is stubborn. But admit it, that fire is why you loved her from the beginning.”
A deep, rich laugh bubbled from inside Brent that sent need skittering along Lauren’s spine as she remembered the thousands of times he had sounded just like that. Often after another of their explosive lovemaking sessions.
She could not help the way her nipples hardened at the memory as a broad smile cut across his face, erasing the worry lines and lightened the dark circles beneath his eyes. “Grandmam, I can’t deny that wisdom. And I suppose as long as I know that you are all safe, it doesn’t matter if she buys my snake oil.”
The old woman winked at him. “That’s my boy. You win more flies with honey than with vinegar. And you got plenty of honey to offer a girl.”
“What, child? A woman my age can still appreciate a thing of true beauty. You’re just lucky I’m not twenty years younger, or I’d give you a race for your money.”
Brent chuckled and leaned over to take the older woman’s hand, drawing it up to his lips. “Elisabeth, as beautiful as you are, you know there has only ever been one woman in my heart.” Lauren felt her throat tighten as he turned towards her with those blue eyes alight with mischief.
“I give up. You two are impossible.”
Her grandmother chuckled, “I certainly hope you do, child.”
Lauren ignored the comment, rising to check on Elise, who was sleeping quietly next to Katie. After tucking the weighted blanket about her daughter’s lap once more, she turned to the young woman who had become more an indispensable member of the family than an employee in the space of a few months.
When it had become evident that she and her grandmother could no longer manage Elise’s care on their own, Lauren had posted advertisements on the bulletin boards around the college of education. Of the two dozen or so applicants who had applied to care for her daughter in the evenings and weekends, Lauren had hired two, Katie and a young man named Joe. While Joe had proven perfectly adequate in dealing with the seemingly endless crises that were the norm when dealing with autistic children like Elise, Katie had been exceptional.
“How did they convince you?” Lauren asked the petite brunette, whose smile never seemed to erase the deep sadness in her warm brown eyes.
Katie stared at her hands folded on her lap. “I needed a change anyway.”
Lauren nodded, knowing that now was not a good time to press the issue. Something had been bothering Katie for the past few weeks. Her grandmother had mentioned it on several occasions, but she had been too busy with work, articles, and her own life to pursue the matter. Besides Lauren was a private person, she assumed that if the younger woman needed her counsel, she would ask for it.
“What about exams, though?”
“I have a doctor’s note to cover the next few weeks.”
Lauren’s green eyes widened at this pronouncement. She had noticed that the girl had lost a few pounds and looked paler of late, but she never realized that there was anything this serious. “Then should you be flying?” She queried in hopes Katie would be encouraged to open up.
Katie looked out the window and shrugged. “It’s nothing that will interfere with me caring for Elise.”
The stiff response was out of character with the close relationship they had shared. And while she was confident that Katie meant it to reassure her, it had just the opposite effect. Lauren thought about pressing the matter but decided, given the mess that her own life was in, it might be best to allow her friend to keep her own confidences.
Of course, she would keep an eye on the woman; make sure that things did not worsen. The girl had become the baby sister that she had longed for her whole life. “Alright, but if you need anything, just ask.”
Lauren looked across to where her eldest child slept. If the world were coming to an end, her young face certainly did not seem worried. Nor did Lauren’s grandmother; the older woman was fallen fast asleep in the brief moments after their exchange.
She supposed it was well enough. It would allow them to avoid another confrontation. Her grandmother had never really adjusted to the divorce, pleading with Lauren to reconsider. It was not as if they had stopped loving one another, Grandmam argued. But Lauren knew – sometimes love just wasn’t enough.
When she returned to her seat, she was relieved to see that Brent, too, seemed to have finally fallen asleep. For the first time, she noticed a liberal sprinkling of grey hair, especially at his temples. She could not stop her fingers from reaching out to brush a wisp of waves from where it had fallen against his forehead.
Brent moaned in his sleep and leaned into her light touch. A soft smile touched his full pink lips. Lauren itched to bend forward and taste them once more. No man had ever turned her stomach to molten lava the way this man did. In her heart, she knew none ever would.
‘What the hell,’ she thought. Giving in to temptation, at least partially, she brushed a light kiss across his forehead where moments before the stray lock of hair had rested.
It was a mistake. Brent shifted suddenly in his seat. His striking eyes stared into hers. “Thank you, Lauren,” was all he said as he grabbed her hand, lacing their fingers together as he drew her down into the seat next to him.
Lauren fell asleep, wondering what he was thanking her for. Brushing the hair back? Following him into another hair-brained wild-goose chase? Or something far more primal? As primal as the molten lava and disastrous eruptions that they had studied for the past almost twenty years.
Brent woke reluctantly. The dream had been so sweet and so fucking real this time.
Their honeymoon. Hawaii, of course. Where else would two young volcanologists go to celebrate their love? It had been a working holiday of sorts as they made the occasional trips to the observatory at Kilauea. But there was plenty of time for other things too.
He shifted slightly in his seat, trying to find a more comfortable position as his cock rose inside his jeans at the memory of one afternoon spent walking, laughing, and loving on a deserted beach near the observatory.
What had begun as another of their friendly disagreements over their work had turned heated when he had playfully splashed water all over her. His cock thickened even more at the memory of how the white t-shirt had become almost translucent, clinging to her breasts, her nipples hardening in response to the colder water and warm breeze.
They had ended up making love in a hidden cove that afternoon. Her cries and his absorbed by the music of crashing waves and carried away on the winds to mix with the ever-present gentle rumble of the billowing giant that fumed and frothed its molten magma into the waves not that far from their hideaway.
That afternoon had been one of their slow burns like Kilauea itself. They had taken their time exploring, caressing, and learning one another’s bodies. Neither caring of Mother Nature’s explosive power that roared just beneath them. It actually added to the experience for them. One of those times that their whole existence just seemed to meld into one.
“Fuck,” he whispered as he shifted a bit in his seat, coming awake more fully.
Enough to realize that in their sleep somehow, Lauren had made her way into his arms. He sighed and shook his head. He knew that he ought to gently move her back towards her own seat. But damn, it felt so good. So damned good. For the first time in over seven years, things were right with the world. Like he was whole again.
But he knew he was just kidding himself. As delusional as she accused him of being when it came to his theories and the alternative therapies he had advocated for Elise.
He knew that if she awoke to find herself like this, she would not be pleased. So, why did he lace his fingers through hers? Why did he sit back watching the sunrise in the sky and contentedly holding the woman he loved as the plane approached its final destination?
He was pondering those questions and preparing to relinquish his precious cargo when she buried her face closer into his shoulder, moaning and whimpering just like she had that day as he began to sink himself into her welcoming warmth. His cock went from half hard to full attention in a single heartbeat as he tightened his hold on her fingers, bringing them to his lips to taste heaven.
And consequences be damned, he needed his delusions. When the world fell apart around them, Lauren was always the one thing that kept him sane. And he needed her right now. Even if she was a reluctant participant.
Lauren walked hand in hand with Brent down a deserted beach. Warm water lapped at her toes. They were deep in conversation, arguing a salient point of volcanology. Then Brent splashed an incoming wave; the spray soaked through Lauren’s t-shirt and shorts. They both dissolved into laughter. Brent drew her into the protective circle of his arms. His lips descended upon hers; warm, firm, and teasing. It seemed to go on forever, and when he finally did draw back, she whimpered softly.
She was still half asleep when she felt a hand envelope her own. Her eyes came open just in time to see Brent brush those lips that she had been dreaming about across her knuckles. His eyes were lit from within by passion’s fire as he leaned over and whispered, “Baby, I haven’t heard that in seven years. You’re driving me nuts here, Lauren.” Those sexy eyes locked upon her mouth as if considering re-enacting the long-ago kiss from her dream.
Lauren drew back quickly from his embrace and forced her head towards the window; light streamed in through the small porthole. “Where are we?”
Brent shook his blond head as if to break the spell. “We are landing in about fifteen minutes.”
“Yes, but that still does not answer my question, Brent. Where the hell are we?”
A dark look passed over Brent’s handsome visage. A look that Lauren had come to know over the years meant that he was deciding whether or not to do something he was not sure about. “Brent, what could I do now? We are almost there. I agreed to give you your week. One week,” she reminded him.
“We are landing on a small private strip. I have been working on Jacobs Energy land in West Texas for the past five years. Preparing for this time.”
Lauren had thought as much. She knew her former husband had strong survivalist sympathies. Over the years, as they traveled from one geological event to another, he had always seemed as interested in the personal tales of survival as he was in the science of collecting data regarding the changes that natural disasters brought to the land.
“Will it be just us?”
“Of course not. A single-family lacks the knowledge and labor reserves to meet its own needs. A clan is much better equipped to survive long term.”
“So, how many people in this clan. And who are they?”
“About fifty people are living in the eco-village now, but I have sent the word out for others to join us as they can. A couple more jets are heading to rendezvous points around the globe. As soon as we land, this one will be refueled and take off again.”
“In the end, I estimate there will be two hundred to two hundred and fifty people joining us. Family, friends, and colleagues, mostly. I met a few military and survivalist types over the years to provide the village with defense should we need it. But the location itself is pretty remote. And the way we built it provides a great deal of camouflage.”
They were interrupted by a loud moan from behind them. Lauren turned in her seat to see Katie trying to adjust the weighted blanket around Elise as the little girl kicked and screamed as if someone had doused her with boiling water.
“The changing pressure is bothering her ears,” Brent surmised.
Lauren’s fingers fumbled with the seat belt as she tried to stand. “No, Lauren, we are in the final descent. You can’t get up now.” He put out his arms to restrain her.
“She needs me,” Lauren spat at him.
Brent turned a bit towards Katie, “Try rubbing her ears and giving her a sip of water from the bottle.”
The young woman nodded, grabbing a refillable water bottle from a pocket next to her. As she brought it to the child’s mouth, the first couple of sips dripped onto the blanket, but Elise soon caught on and sucked vigorously at the top. She quieted a bit but still thrashed against the seat belt restraining her, whimpering occasionally.
She looked up when her father’s deep timbre soothed her across the distance of the small cabin. “It’s alright, baby girl. It will all be over soon. We are going to play with the ponies like Daddy promised.”
The child turned her head away from the bottle and seemed to stare out the window as if looking for the promised ponies in the clouds.
Megan joined the efforts, crooning, “Remember, I promised you we could play with the wooly sheep.”
Lauren stared at Brent. “What is this place? Some Noah’s Ark?”
“Not exactly. Wild animals tend to do better on their own, but we do need domesticated ones for food, wool, and some labor. As I said, it is a sort of eco-village; self-sufficient.”
The rest of his words did not register as she felt the sharp descent, which marked their impending landing. She tried to force her breathing into the steady in and out that she had learned to calm her fears of flight. Well, specifically of taking off and landing, usually once they were in the air, everything was fine unless there was too much turbulence.
As she felt the bump that announced their arrival at this mysterious destination, Lauren automatically reached out and grabbed Brent’s hand, where it rested on the chair between them.
Brent squeezed her fingers back in the same old reassuring way that he had for years. “I forgot how much you hate this part. Maybe it wasn’t the pressure change bothering Elise at all. Maybe she is just like her Mommy.”
The big grin on his face irritated her. Lauren would have hit him at that moment, except that her hands were busy gripping the chair on one side and his warmth on the other. “I will get you for that, Brent Jacobs.”
“Lauren, there is nothing you can do to me that you haven’t done already. But in case I forget to say this again, thank you. Thank you for trusting me this one last time. Thank you for allowing me to protect the women I love. Thank you for everything, Lauren.”
Lauren had to look away from the brightness of his gaze. His words and the deep intimate tone of his voice alone were hard enough to fight. When Brent talked like this, she rarely had the strength to argue with anything he said. Nodding her head, she simply said, “One week, Brent. I mean it.”