Then something squeezed his neck. His face felt wet. He was a car...trees outside...and the present returned, snapping into focus. Lisa was caressing his neck, and tears, his own, rolled down his face. He felt embarrassed, but everyone was carefully watching something else. Silently, he watched the trees and worked to dam the tears.

path to peace

Lisa's fingers lightly traced the rounded vertebrae of John's neck, probing gently to either side, seeking lumpy points of tension in the large levator muscles. When they found one she'd bring her thumb into play. It would swoop over the lump, laying down pressure like a knife spreading stiff peanut butter, then swoop away, only to return again and again until the palpitated lump was no more. Her thumb had been working hard for several minutes, strafing hard strands of erupting tension. Now it rested while her fingers caressed the newly softened ropes of muscle.

Lisa's hands had been working overtime for two months. But they were up to the task, growing stronger each day. The worst was two weeks ago, when he told her he might join the CIA. With his black hair and olive complexion, he could pass as a Bosnian Muslim. He spoke a little Russian. So he could fake some obscure Bosnian dialect as his native language, and communicate in Russian. He could infiltrate the Islamic fundamentalists. He was smart, he said. It would take a few years, but he could do it.

"I'll have time to improve my Russian. I'll memorize the Koran. I'll read every piece of their fanatic propaganda."

Lisa was shaken. Her face grew pale. She stared at the fabric on the couch.

"They'll train me well," he said reassuringly.

Still she said nothing. He moved closer, gently touching her pale face. "I know I'm no James Bond. I'll be more effective as some kind of accounting clerk or logistical aid in financial transactions. I won't become an assassin's target."

She raised her head, her eyes searching his.

"Lisa, I've got to do somethi__"

Her hand shot up, gentle fingertips touched his lips. Silence, they said. And the massaging hands went to work. An hour later he fell asleep, her thumb gently stroking his temple. She lay watching his youthful face, his dark curving eyebrows, the straight nose with rounded nostrils, the darker shade of his shave. She knew him well enough to know he was serious. His rage and hurt still seethed, but he was thinking carefully, cautiously and tactically.

Lisa admired and respected his courage. He'd alter the whole course of his life, surely suffer, maybe die. Not just to avenge his brother. But, yes, to avenge, to smash the perpetrators of awesome horror. It seemed righteous, it seemed just, but there was something about it she couldn't trust. It's an eye for an eye, she thought. We kill them; then they kill us. Nothing new under the sun. And she distrusted her government, especially in this.

She recalled her parents talking of illegal U.S. arms shipments to Iran in order to fund illegal Contra assaults on village farms in Nicaragua. She remembered something quite shocking about cocaine shipments to Los Angeles and to a Texas Air Force base, shipments protected by the CIA, sold in the U.S. to fund the Contras. But she couldn't focus it. She couldn't form it into a comprehensive perspective, much less explain it clearly to John. Now she wished she'd paid more attention to these things her parents had discussed so openly around her.

We're in over our heads, she thought. We want so much to act; we feel we must do something. But what? We cannot accept a world like this, but what can we do that really works, that doesn't just make it worse?

She really liked John, and she knew she could not stay with him unless she could commit fully to his choices. Another thing she knew for sure was that she currently didn't know enough to support him in this. So she'd been shaken and speechless.

She needed to drink from the waters of a deeper well. So did he. Intuitively, she thought of her family. She thought of her mother, who spoke furiously of U.S. foreign policy brutality, yet spoke so lovingly of her father -- Lisa's grandfather -- a warrior decorated for heroism in Korea, a warrior who volunteered to fly his chopper into firefights and retrieve the critically wounded. She thought of Uncle Al. She knew he'd been opposed to Vietnam, yet he spoke so fondly of his older brother Dave, a radio operator in Vietnam. For the first time she realized the extent to which the bonds of affection, and respect, in her own family had somehow managed to transcend what appeared to be huge differences in ideology.

She looked away from John's sleeping face, gazing instead through the window above the couch, watching the few stars that glimmered beyond the blaze of city lights. Her soft brown eyes lay in a field of light freckles. Tousled brown waves of lengthy hair surrounded her young face. She looked beautiful in the lazy light. The ridge of her pert nose curved gracefully toward her forehead, where the barely perceptible shadow of a single furrow could be seen, a furrow that hadn't been there before.

She was still there when he awoke. He started to speak, but her swift fingers stopped him. "John," she said, "will you come with me to my family's Thanksgiving gathering?"

"Yeah, sure__"

"Good. Can you leave a week from Wednesday?"

For the second time in his life, John had the sense of being asked by a woman to wait, be patient. This time he caught on much faster. "Sure," was all he said.

And now, here they were, arriving at Al's, gliding through a long shaded driveway, trees merely inches away. They climbed from the parked car, eager to relieve muscles and bladders. Al, accompanied by Aunt Janice who had already arrived, came out to greet them.