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      The Garden

      Dear reader: This piece is much longer than the others. It will take about 30 minutes to read. So grab your coffee, or a pot of tea, or maybe a glass of wine and take your time with it. I pray you enjoy reading this piece as much as I did creating it.

      The Entrance

      The woman at the gate greeted me, smiling "Welcome! Come on in!"

      The gate was of wrought iron, strong and sturdy, skillfully forged with pleasant curves and adornments. Not ornate, but tall, elegant and graceful. The hinges were well-oiled and made only the slightest noise as she opened the gate. With a curtsy, a bow, and a playfully overplayed sweep of her hand, she invited me to enter along a cushiony pine-needle-covered path into her garden.

      The fence, too, was of wrought iron: bars of iron, gently twisted, set a hand's-width apart in a stone foundation each topped with a fleur-de-lis -- the points of each discouraging all but the invited guests to an expansive and most beautiful landscape.

      She escorted me only a short distance along a winding path which branched like a tree luring visitors to an intriguing variation of possible destinations. She invited me to sit on a bench in a widened section of the path.

      The bench was ordinary, like a park bench, with green wooden slats anchored in concrete supports. Throw-pillows rested against the armrests on either end. It was well worn. I could tell that many had sat here before me. She positioned herself on one end facing me with her knee against the back of the bench and her foot extending over the edge of the seat. She had both hands on her ankle. I sensed that she could maintain that posture for days and not tire of it.

      There was a simple wooden table in front of the bench, like a coffee table. At its center stood a small bouquet of flowers recently gathered from the flowerbed nearby. The smell of rosemary and lavender bushes scented the fresh air.

      "I have never seen a garden quite like this," I remarked. "There is so much beauty here, I don't know where to begin. Tell me about it."

      She began to tell me stories -- stories of the history of the garden, where some of the flowers came from, the kinds of birds and butterflies that are its frequent visitors. She also told me of friends who have been here, some many times for years, and others only recently. Her gestures were lively and energetic seeming to paint the air between us with broad, graceful strokes. Her voice was animated and engaging, rich and complex, like a good red wine. I drank it all in slowly and savored her stories for hours.

      At one point she reached around behind her and lifted a picnic basket out onto the space between us on the bench, positioning the lid to obscure its contents from me. With a wink and a smile, she reached in and pulled out two embroidered cloth napkins placing one in my lap while relating the story behind the needlework. Then she lifted a plate of artisan cheeses from the basket and placed it on the table in front of the bench. She related the source of the plate and the story behind the design and colors of the glaze along with the names and origins of each of the cheeses. Then she continued to pull an assortment of snack foods and stories from her basket arranging the meal before us with everything within easy reach. Then she paused hiding both hands behind the lid to tease my imagination. I sat in amazement wondering what else could possibly be borne of that magical container. Then, slowly, she lifted a gorgeous cut-crystal wine glass up into a shaft of light from the late afternoon sun. She splashed the rainbows created by the light all over my face and arms and into the flower garden behind me, giggling, teasing me to try and chase them with my eyes. Then she lifted its twin from her basket placing them both gently on the table. Finally, she brought out a bottle of wine, but I could see immediately that this was no ordinary wine. The bottle was hand-blown from mufti-colored glass. It was irregularly shaped and had no label. As she wiped the cork with a soft cloth and handed me the corkscrew I couldn't wait to hear their stories.

      While enjoying this shared meal and conversation my gaze drifted toward the setting sun behind her. Far off in the distance on a hill just below the sun stood a temple. I watched the sun slide slowly behind it, reflecting light through its windows, lengthening its shadows and highlighting the cross at its peak. I stared at the light bathing the cross first in shimmering gold, then brilliant orange, then a final flash of crimson before fading into the dusky light of a glorious evening.

      Shortly thereafter, at a break in the conversation, as I breathed deeply trying to inhale all the beauty in this garden that surely extended well beyond my sight, I reached across inviting her to place her hands in mine. "It has been a wonderful evening and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time together. You are an amazing and delightful woman and I can't wait to get to know more of you." And with a gentle smile, I lifted my eyes to meet hers and apologized, "But I need to go. Again next week? Same time?"

      She smiled and with a soft, inviting voice replied, "Sure. I'd like that."

      I stood, and as if inviting her to dance, took her hand, and as she rose we gathered our arms around each other in a tender embrace. Not tight and passionate, but not distant either. It was a hug with a holiness that is intuitively known when you share it -- in that interstice balanced between pulling in and pushing away. It's the kind of hug that does not anticipate anything beyond its own boundaries -- just two gently overlapping personal spaces, close and comforting. Safe.

      As our hug softly and effortlessly slid back apart, she said, "Next week then," as she held both of my hands and smiled broadly.

      I gave her hands and gentle squeeze replying, "See you then." then turned to leave through the gate and back out into the street.

      I could hear her lock the gate behind me.



      The Orange Rose

      The next week I returned to the garden at the appointed time and stood at the gate. I looked around and couldn't see her anywhere. I called out, "Hello! Can I come in?"

      From somewhere behind an azalea, across from where we sat the week before, her voice rose, "Come on in. The gate's not locked. I'm just finishing up a little weeding."

      She stood and smiled at my arrival removing her gloves and placing them in her gardening cart.

      "I brought you a little something," I said as I carried a potted tea rose over to her cart.

      "Wow! I can smell them from here! And they're not even fully open yet! Let's put these beauties in the cart for now," she said as she helped me lower the pot into the cart.

      Her fingers and eyes gently explored each rosebud in turn and she, almost without thinking, pinched off a single yellowing leaf and tossed it aside. "I love the color! It's a perfect blend of red and yellow, like the color on the wings of an oriole. Thank you! I know just where I am going to put it." she said, winking, as if to say "And I'm not telling you where, just yet."

      I watched as she took a rag from her cart and cleaned the tines of her weeder. Then she took another cloth, poured a little oil onto it and wiped the tool down then returned it to its place on the cart.

      "There! Now I can greet you in a more proper fashion!" she said with enthusiasm as she threw her arms around me and we shared a big, long hug. Then she clasped my shoulders, looked straight into my eyes and said, "It's so good to see you again. Let's go for a walk, OK? Let me show you some more of the garden."

      "Oh! Wait. First, take off your shoes. Leave them here by the cart. You won't be needing them," she said, beaming with a grin that hinted at a sneaky, childlike intention. As soon as I kicked off my shoes, she tightly grabbed my hand, and almost running, making sounds like a Ferrari, pulled me off onto a narrow serpentine dirt path, around corners, up and down hills, and through a small opening in a line of trees down to the bank of a creek.

      She released my hand and stepped out onto a flat rock at the edge of the water. Then she leaped a short distance to the second rock and stood on a third next to it. Motioning back to me, she beckoned, "Well? Come on! What are you waiting for? Afraid you'll get your feet wet?"

      I followed her lead, managing to land squarely on the second rock, but not nearly with her grace and ease. Then I watched as she closed her eyes, cupping her hands as if receiving a gift, and lifting her head slightly, pausing, praying. Then she opened her eyes, knelt down, scooped up some of the water and took a drink, holding the water in her mouth for a few moments before swallowing. Then she knelt again, filled her cupped hands and offered it to me. I lifted her hands in silence, watching her eyes and drank reverently. The water was refreshingly cool, but not icy. She repeated the entire sequence one more time. Then on the third time, just as I was about to hold her hands to drink, she splashed it in my face, spritzed me with her fingers and ran off giggling, bounding across the creek on the remaining stones and up the path on the far side. I chased after her, up a sandy dune and then watched in amazement as she dove off the top of the dune like a platform diver, executed a perfect piked flip, landed like a ski jumper, and skied down to what looked like a pommel horse at the bottom. She vaulted onto one end of the horse with gymnastic ease and sat, laughing, waiting for me to join her.

      I stood for a moment at the top of the dune. Should I just try to slide down on my feet? My butt? Should I try to do a flip like she did? I glanced down to her trying to catch a hint of what she was expecting. She had her elbows on the horse, chin in her hands, watching, grinning, waiting to see what I would decide. Then backing up a few steps to take a running head start, I flew off the top, imitating Superman jumping out a window, yelling "IT'S A PLANE", landing in the soft sand, spread-eagle, then flopping over and over like a dead fish as I slid to a stop near the bottom. I lay there on my back, laughing heartily. Then I took a deep smiling breath, made a snow angel in the sand just for fun, got up, brushed the sand off and walked over to the horse. I commented, "Dang! Forgot my cape!" Then added, "You've obviously done that before."

      Still laughing, she replied "Ha! A few times. C'mon. Hop up here. Welcome to the gym."

      The horse was made from a single slab of onyx. It was sculpted out so that her body fit perfectly into the place where she was seated. A similar place was carved out facing her and was obviously shaped to fit legs and sit-bones. I swung my leg over as if getting into a saddle and nestled my body into the curves of the stone. It was surprisingly comfortable.

      "This is gorgeous!" I remarked as I ran my hands over its smooth, polished surface. "I love the layers of greens and browns. And this seat! It's so comfortable! It sure doesn't feel like I'm sitting on a rock!"

      She explained, "I had a friend carve this out and polish it to fit my body. Your side was fashioned to fit someone about your size and shape. So, there you are. I thought this would be fun!" And then she proceeded to relate the entire story about where the block of onyx came from and the friendships that were forged in its making. My hands and eyes traced the endless beauty of the colored streaks in the stone while listening intently to the rich details of an equally beautiful story.

      Then she added, "And there is more stuff behind the other dune over there. Monkey bars made from rubber, a trampoline that you can jump on to get up to a tree house, balance beams across a marshy area, traveling rings hanging from trees in the woods, stuff like that. Then over that hill behind me are the mountain bike trails." She paused with a teasing grin peering into my eyes to catch my reaction to this suddenly underplayed destination.

      I am certain she recognized my passion for biking as a broad smile spread from my eyes across my face. But instead of taking her lead into that story, I returned the tease by changing the subject. "Hmmm. Mountain biking. I might like to try that with you someday. But first, tell be about that creek! That was some of the best water I have ever tasted! Tell me its story."

      At that, she became pensive, meditative, looking off into the distance sighing, "The creek wasn't here at first. I longed for it though throughout most of my early life. Somehow deep inside me, I knew it was here somewhere, it's just that I could never find it in the gnarled thickets and brambles which used to carpet this place. At one point, many years ago, I told a friend what I was looking for and she suggested I look for it inside the temple. One night, in a fit of depression, I tore up the floor of the temple and starting digging with my hands. I dug down a foot or two in the dirt, and then stopped as the dirt became damp and water started bubbling up. There was a spring right inside the temple! Who would have known? From there, I worked for months digging a channel to the outside, lining it with marble and then letting the water flow wherever it wanted to through the garden. It meanders all around this place, sometimes stopping to form pools, and sometimes rushing down hills splashing its way around rocks and over ledges. It now forms the soul of this garden and gives it life."

      I reflected for a moment, then replied, "I'm glad you found it. This garden would not be the same without it ... dry and lifeless in comparison."

      "And a whole lot more work," she added.

      At that, we dismounted the horse and she continued to show me other destinations in the garden. We stopped and danced in one of the gazebos. We ate from the vegetable garden and snacked on fruit in the orchard. We treated ourselves to grapes hanging from an arbor in a space designed for reflection, study, and prayer. Then as we made our way back towards the gate, we came across an area that was recently cleared and obviously under construction.

      She led me onto the soft, freshly raked dirt and explained, "This is where I want to put the orange rose. Could you go back and bring the cart for me? Oh, and bring your shoes too."

      I returned with the cart and lifted the rose onto the ground. She handed me a damp towel to clean my feet and I put on my shoes while she removed a shovel from its slot in the cart. She stood on the shovel and lifted a big scoop of dirt out to start a hole for the rose. Then she handed me the shovel saying, "This should be a good spot. Here! Let's dig the hole together. A couple more healthy scoops ought to do it."

      We dug the hole and planted the rose bush into it. She pulled a watering can from under her cart and gave it a good drink. We used the remaining water to wash our hands.

      After returning everything to the cart, she took a deep breath, turned to face me, and placed her hands on my shoulders. I placed my hands tenderly on her waist. "This is a space I opened up for you, my friend. This is your garden. You can put whatever energy you want into it, or do nothing at all. It is totally up to you. And ..." reaching into her pocket and pensively pulling out a key, she continued, "you are free to come and go as you please. This is the key to the gate."

      With that, she put her arms around me, held her cheek next to mine for a few moments and then gave me a soft, tender kiss by the ear. A holy kiss. I gave her one in return.

      After a few moments, I slid my hands up her back, up and around to her shoulders and down her arms to hold her hands. I responded, "Thank you, my friend. I'll be back in a week. I'll bring a few more things for this garden spot and maybe we can work on it together for awhile."

      "Sounds wonderful. See you then. I'll work on the path leading up here. I think I'll connect it with the dancing gazebo since I can tell that is part of who you are."

      "And the creek!" I added.

      "Of course, the creek! See you next week."

      With that, I stopped to look at all that was around me trying to take it all with me before I left. But I knew that was not possible. There was no pocket in the vest of my memory large enough. There was so much more here than anyone could possibly absorb in a lifetime. And the thought of that brought me joy.



      The Trilliums, the Lily and the Hostas

      When I returned to the garden gate a week later, I found it locked. I pulled the key from my pocket, unlocked it, entered the garden and then locked it again behind me. I announced my arrival, "Hello! I'm back!" Hearing no reply, I headed over to the garden spot she reserved for me carrying a few plants with me. I had a some potted trilliums, a lily bulb, and some miniature hostas taken from my own home garden. When I reached the spot, I found she had left me a new garden cart with a shovel, trowel, weeder, rake, some rags, a bottle of oil, and a watering can filled with water. There was a bag of compost on the bottom shelf of the cart.

      At the edge of the clearing was a donkey cart full of irregular flat field stones. I thought they would look nice as a rock garden like my mother used to have. I went to work with the shovel, terracing a small hill and placing the stones, rearranging and placing them again until the arc of the terraced stones blended and flowed gracefully with the pathways and contours of the surrounding gardens.

      "Nice! I love it!", she said rather loudly from behind me.

      Startled, I responded, "Sheesh girl! Good thing I wasn't carrying one of those stones or I would have dropped it on my foot!"

      I took off my gloves, wiped the sweat from my brow, and seeing that she was offering to give me a hug, I cautioned, "I'm kind of hot and sweaty."

      "You're not sweating. You're glistening. That's OK. I don't care. I'm glad to see you. C'mere you fool. Greet me with a hug and a holy kiss like we're friends or something."

      We held each other for a few moments and exchanged the now familiar kiss. I replied, "I'm really liking this."

      She then took the trilliums and the hostas and pointing to a shady area at the edge of the clearing, she asked, "You want me to plant these over there somewhere?"

      "Sure. Pick a spot. Anywhere."

      Then she prompted with genuine inquisitiveness, "Tell me their stories."

      "Well the trilliums are from my childhood home. I used to love walking down the hill into the woods behind the house in the spring and marvel at their beautiful white blossoms marking the end of winter. They are also a symbol of the Trinity, you know."

      "I did know that! Marvelous. What about the hostas?"

      "Actually, these little guys are hybrids that my grandmother developed. She has over 20 registered hybrids and I am collecting as many as I can find to add to my own shade garden. I thought I'd put a few of my favorites here."

      "And the lily?", she asked.

      "Ah, the lily. My daughter has a passion for lilies. This is a plum-colored Asiatic lily variety which is one of her favorites."

      She added, "And easy to grow. Let's put her over here in the sun by the rose. She will look pretty lonely for awhile, but we can always give her more company later."

      We worked together for awhile, chatting, with me doing most of the story-telling this time. And then I asked, "But tell me about the key. You have only known me for a few hours and yet you entrusted me with a very intimate and personal thing. No one has done that before. Why so soon? Why me?"

      She invited me to sit down, cross-legged in the dirt. She followed suit, facing me, holding my hands between our laps and looking deeply into my eyes. She explained, "Remember that first day, two weeks ago, when the sun was setting behind me? I watched where you were looking. You gazed at the cross above the temple and were not paying any attention to the temple itself. You were focused on the holiness of the building, not on its adornments and decorations. You are the first man I have invited into this garden to ever do that.

      "Most men come to this garden and of all its wonderful and fascinating destinations, are focused entirely on that one destination at the center. And, sure. It's the one that is the most visible. You can see it from the street. And, yes, it is the custom in this town to highlight, accentuate, and draw attention to the temple of the garden. I don't blame them one bit.

      "And I totally used to buy into that custom. This garden used to be very different. I had colored floodlights all over lighting up and drawing attention to the temple. I brightly painted its walls and tried to keep it looking like it was newly built. And the pathway to the temple came straight from the gate. I was conforming with the standard for gardens in this area.

      "Over the years I watched as the rest of this garden became neglected. It was overgrown and weedy. And the men who came here had little interest in anything in the rest of the garden. Why would they? It was a mess!

      "I finally became weary of the emptiness of it. I was tired of trying to be normal. Those floodlights have now been replaced with a few simple accent lights. I prefer instead to work with the natural light, simply softening the shadows – enticing you to look and appreciate without being so blatant. I stripped off the paint and I no longer try to hide the cracks and discolorations in the stonework. Sure, I'll touch up some chipping plasterwork, but I no longer try to make it look like something it isn't. It's not new. It's not Italian marble. And I want visitors to notice and enjoy the eternal beauty in its age, and to see the marks left by its rich, long history. I want them to be drawn into the stories behind each of those marks. There is more beauty in the stories than in anything I used to try and cover them up with.

      "And I also have done a lot of work on the rest of the garden. The first thing I did was dig up the path which led to the temple from the gate. I made it curve around and branch out into the rest of the garden. I planted hedges and bushes and made many of the boundaries clear and well-defined. My girlfriends and I fixed up the gazebos, the arbors, and cleared away the underbrush. We planted the flowerbeds and each friend was given her own space to share with me. They have all covenanted with me to help make this a very different place than it once was. They are friends for life -- and I fully intend the double-meaning in that.

      "I also watched as you respected these pathways, hedges, and edges of the gardens. You did not take shortcuts over a hedge, or across a grassy area like some men do. You stayed within the boundaries, even the ones I have only hinted at. I have worked hard over these past few years with the advice of my friends to establish those boundaries. Some are mere suggestions. Others are waist-high hedges. Others are high enough to obscure your view, and a few on the back side of the garden which you have not seen yet, are downright thorny and impenetrable. You respected each of those boundaries effortlessly. I can also tell that it is part of who you are and not just a part you are playing in a drama of your own making.

      "I sense your honesty, humility, openness, transparency. I feel free to be completely exposed and vulnerable knowing that you would never intend to use that to your advantage. I know you would never hurt me on purpose.

      "I can also sense that you are not of this town. Sure you live here, you eat here, you work here, you play here, but you play by a different set of rules. The unwritten rule in this town is that on the third trip to a garden, you are entitled to play at the temple. You know that, but you went straight here to the spot I cleared for you instead. You have not commented on the curves, contours and adornments of the temple. I hear no innuendo. You have not teased, cajoled or pushed me to allow you closer to it. You have not crossed any of its protective boundaries. All your desires are obviously centered on playing in the gardens and exploring all its destinations, and not just centered on the one in the middle. You enjoy it out here and I sense you would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of our times together playing and exploring the complexity that my other friends and I have helped to create. You are not like the others.

      "And you share! You are thoughtful, considerate, giving. On your second trip here, you brought me an orange rose – in a pot even. I get the symbolism of that – half yellow, half red – half friend, half love. I also get the symbolism behind the orange – the color of fire, the fire of the spirit. And I get the pot – that you brought it here to stay and become a story. That was such a wonderful gift there were no words to express it. I knew you knew. I knew you brought it because you saw the reflection of my fire, my spirit, my love, and our blooming friendship within it.

      "Oh, dear friend, you have no idea what that means to me. There have been men come here, taking all that I had to give without giving much in return, draining and exhausting me in the process. I have cleared garden spots for them, only to find that I was doing all the work to maintain them. I have had men here who appeared to be interested in things other than the temple, like the gym and all, only to explore a bit and then leave. And there were one or two who kept looking across the street the whole time they were here. I didn't bother to ask them back. But not you. Not you. You're different."

      After a short reflective pause, she continued, "Even your hugs different. You do not pull me into your own agenda. But neither do you hold me away in stiff mistrust. And I don't feel like I need to do that either. Your hugs fill me to the brim, my friend. And when I am full, your embrace dissolves at my slightest tactile hint. It melts away from around my back and drips down my arm. It flows gracefully off the tips of our fingers, retreating lovingly back into your own personal space like a rosebud closing up for the evening. I notice those things. I know what they mean. I know where they come from.

      "I know what shape your heart is in.

      "And I get what you brought today. You didn't just run to the store and bring a bunch of pretty annuals. You brought carefully selected plants each with their own stories. You brought a piece of your history, your context, and are in the process of weaving it in with mine. I get that. I totally get that.

      "So, my friend. I gave you the key. I trust you. I like you. I want you to come back and help me create a space that is part of you and becomes part of me. For that is how this whole garden continues to grow and becomes more of what it was probably meant to be from the beginning."

      I sat with her hands in mine as tears gathered at the corners of my eyes. I let them wander down my cheeks and drip into the earth between us. I replied, "I am deeply honored by your trust and I will always treat it as a privilege, never a right or entitlement. I will always consider myself an honored guest in your garden and never take it for granted. I will never act as if I belong here."

      Thinking back, I continued, "Long ago I, too, tried to conform. I tried to act and follow the same rules as other men. But I realized at some point that once I play at a temple a few times there really isn't anything new. It becomes ordinary. I know what to expect. I mean it's not like I'd return one day and be surprised that it had suddenly grown a new archway or that a limestone wall had suddenly turned to granite. And I began to see the futility of the messages of our town giving us tips and techniques to try and keep a temple looking new and coming up with all kinds of ways to try and maintain the excitement of the initial visits.

      "And I have been greatly rewarded by that realization. In your garden, you have noticed that I look for and see the holiness of the temple. It is a sacred place. A very private place. It belongs to you and is not my place. It's not that I don't notice it. I do. I appreciate its curves and contours. I know they're there but I don't focus on them. My focus instead is on what flows from the spring at the center of that temple. For I know that the structure of the building is not what gives it life. It's what flows out from the center which feeds and nourishes the rest of this garden. And that excites me far beyond any visit to the temple could. For I know that with each return to this endless garden, I will always discover something new. There will always be something you can teach me. There will always be something we can work on together. There will always be a new song we can dance to together in the gazebo. There will always be a new story here somewhere.

      "And it doesn't matter how much time elapses between my returns. If I get busy with other things, or you get involved with other people and we are unable to make our schedules met, it won't make any difference. Even if a year flew by before we could spend time together, I know we could pick up right from where we left off as if it was only a day."

      My eyes stared at the rock garden while I reflected on where I was. I thought, "I am sitting here in the dirt, holding the hands of an endlessly fascinating woman, feeling more joy than I can contain. Not romantic love. It's not a transient, flashy, hormonal love. It's deeper than that. Wider than that. Much broader than that. I am being filled with pure, boundless, eternal joy."

      I silently continued to reflect, "Deep within me I know where this joy comes from. This is surely the love of God flowing through me, clean, clear, and untainted feeding directly into the heart and soul of another. This is surely what it must mean when Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It must mean that I plant a piece of who I am in the garden of a friend, and that friend does the same in mine. Then we tend and care for those spots together."

      Then I shared my reflections, adding, "You're right. You and I both are playing by a very different set of rules and customs outside the norm in this town. You and your girlfriends are chucking the temporary, the transient, the worthless, and exchanging them for the eternal. In a sense, you are attempting to redefine glamor by accentuating what is eternally beautiful."

      "I agree. But the guys haven't bought into it. I've been looking for ones who do. Where are they?"

      I thought about this for a minute, then suggested, "We men are bombarded by the ideal of temporal beauty as much as the women. And reaching the published ideal is now utterly impossible. Historically, all the work of trying to achieve the ideal has rested on the backs of the women. The men just sit back and enjoy the fruits of their efforts. That's a tough standard to redefine. It's going to take some time."

      After another moment of reflection, I added, "So maybe it starts with our reaching out to love a friend as we are loved by God rather than offering a cheaper imitation that can be turned on and off like a switch. Maybe it starts with our freely offering each other a love which is always wrapped as a true gift and never conceals an obligation. Maybe it starts with you and your girlfriends seeking the men willing to work with you to establish this new ideal -- one which was probably intended for us from the beginning. So maybe it really isn't new at all. It is ancient and timeless at the same time. Maybe it starts with each of us seeking the holiness in each other. For deep within that holiness lies the image of God, not the image of an idol. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I don't really know."

      "I don't know either." she agreed, while standing to brush the dirt from her jeans. I stood and did the same. Then we walked arm-in-arm back to the gate. I unlocked and opened it then turned offering her a holy embrace.

      We held each other for a long time ending it with a mutual soft kiss on the cheek. And as the embrace melted away, I added shaking my head, "I just don't know. I wish all our friendships were like this. It just seems so, I don't know, like Heaven on Earth maybe. I could never go back to what I used to do. Why would I want to? Deep, drama-free, transparent, intimate friendships like this are so much more rewarding."

      Then I left, turning to lock the gate behind me, and added, calling out "I do know one thing though."

      She turned and called back, "What's that?"

      "I'm bringing my bike next week!"

      "You're on dude! Let's hop some rocks! Can't wait!" Then she turned, and half dancing, half skipping, waltzed back into the garden.

      I did the same back out into the street.