"Have you been crying?" Deanna asked as Theresa stepped onto the back deck, carrying both the bottle and the message. In her confusion, she had forgotten to throw the bottle away. Theresa felt embarrassed and wiped her eyes as Deanna put down the newspaper and rose from her seat. Though she was overweight-and had been since Theresa had known her-she moved quickly around the table, her face registering concern. "Are you okay? What happened out there? Are you hurt?" She bumped into one of the chairs as she reached out and took Theresa's hand. Theresa shook her head. "No, nothing like that. I just found this letter and . . . I don't know, after I read it I couldn't help it." "A letter? What letter? Are you sure you're okay?" Deanna's free hand gestured compulsively as she asked the questions. "I'm fine, really. The letter was in a bottle. I found it washed up on the beach. When I opened it and read it . . ." She trailed off, and Deanna's face lightened just a bit. "Oh . . . that's good. For a second I thought something awful happened. Like someone had attacked you or something." Theresa brushed away a strand of hair that had blown onto her face and smiled at her concern. "No, the letter just really hit me. It's silly, I know. I shouldn't have been so emotional. And I'm sorry for giving you a scare." "Oh, pooh," Deanna said, shrugging. "Nothing to be sorry about. I'm just glad you're okay." She paused for a moment. "You said the letter made you cry? Why? What did it say?" Theresa wiped her eyes, handed the letter to Deanna, and walked over to the wrought-iron table where Deanna had been sitting. Still feeling a bit ridiculous about crying, she did her best to compose herself. Deanna read the letter slowly, and when she finished, she looked up at Theresa. Her eyes too were watering. It wasn't just her, after all. "It's . . . it's beautiful," Deanna finally said. "It's one of the most touching things I've ever read." "That's what I thought." "And you found it washed up on the beach? When you were running?" Theresa nodded. "I don't know how it could have washed up there. The bay is sheltered from the rest of the ocean, and I've never heard of Wrightsville Beach." "I don't know, either, but it looked like it had washed up last night. I almost walked by it at first before I noticed what it was." Deanna ran her finger over the writing and paused for a moment. "I wonder who they are. And why was it sealed in a bottle?" "I don't know." "Aren't you curious?" The fact was that Theresa was indeed curious. Immediately after reading it, she had read it again, then a third time. What would it be like, she mused, to have someone love her that way? "A little. But so what? There's no way we'll ever know." "What are you going to do with it?" "Keep it, I guess. I haven't really thought about it that much." "Hmmm," Deanna said with an indecipherable smile. Then, "How was your jog?" Theresa sipped a glass of juice she had poured. "It was good. The sun was really something when it came up. It looked like the world was glowing." "That's just because you were dizzy from lack of oxygen. Jogging does that to you." Theresa smiled, amused. "So, I take it you won't come with me this week." Deanna reached for her cup of coffee with a doubtful look on her face. "Not a chance. My exercise is limited to vacuuming the house every weekend. Can you picture me out there, huffing and puffing? I'd probably have a heart attack." "It's refreshing once you get used to it." "That may be true, but I'm not young and svelte like you are. The only time I can remember running at all was when I was a kid and the neighbor's dog got out of the yard. I was running so fast, I almost wet my pants." Theresa laughed out loud. "So, what's on the agenda today?" "I thought we'd do a little shopping and have lunch in town. Are you up for something like that?" "That's what I was hoping you'd say." The two women talked about the places they might go. Then Deanna got up and went inside for another cup of coffee and Theresa watched her as she left. Deanna was fifty-eight and round faced, with hair that was slowly turning to gray. She kept it cut short, dressed without an excess of vanity, and was, Theresa decided, easily the best person she knew. She was knowledgeable about music and art, and at work, the recordings of Mozart or Beethoven were always flooding out of her office into the chaos of the newsroom. She lived in a world of optimism and humor, and everyone who knew her adored her. When Deanna came back to the table, she sat down and looked out across the bay. "Isn't this the most beautiful place you've ever seen?" "Yes, it is. I'm glad you invited me." "You needed it. You would have been absolutely alone in that apartment of yours." "You sound like my mother." "I'll take that as a compliment." Deanna reached across the table and picked up the letter again. As she perused it her eyebrows raised, but she said nothing. To Theresa, it looked as though the letter had triggered something in her memory. "What is it?" "I just wonder . . . ," she said quietly. "Wonder what?" "Well, when I was inside, I got to thinking about this letter. I'm wondering if we should run this in your column this week." "What are you talking about?" Deanna leaned across the table. "Just what I said-I think we should run this letter in your column this week. I'm sure other people would love to read it. It really is unusual. People need to read something like this every once in a while. And this is so touching. I can picture a hundred women cutting it out and taping it to their refrigerators so their husbands can see it when they get home from work." "We don't even know who they are. Don't you think we should get their permission first?" "That's just the point. We can't. I can talk to the attorney at the paper, but I'm sure it's legal. We won't use their real names, and as long as we don't take credit for writing it or divulge where it might be from, I'm sure there wouldn't be a problem." "I know it's probably legal, but I'm not sure if it's right. I mean, this is a very personal letter. I'm not sure it should be spread around so that everyone can read it." "It's a human interest story, Theresa. People love those sorts of things. Besides, there's nothing in there that might be embarrassing to someone. This is a beautiful letter. And remember, this Garrett person sent it in a bottle in the ocean. He had to know it would wash up somewhere." Theresa shook her head. "I don't know, Deanna . . ." "Well, think about it. Sleep on it if you have to. I think it's a great idea." * * * Theresa did think about the letter as she undressed and got in the shower. She found herself wondering about the man who wrote it-Garrett, if that was his real name. And who, if anyone, was Catherine? His lover or his wife, obviously, but she wasn't around anymore. Was she dead, she wondered, or did something else happen that forced them apart? And why was it sealed in a bottle and set adrift? The whole thing was strange. Her reporter's instincts took over then, and she suddenly thought that the message might not mean anything. It could be someone who wanted to write a love letter but didn't have anyone to send it to. It could even have been sent by someone who got some sort of vicarious thrill by making lonely women cry on distant beaches. But as the words rolled through her head again, she realized that those possibilities were unlikely. The letter obviously came from the heart. And to think that a man wrote it! In all her years, she had never received a letter even close to that. Touching sentiments sent her way had always been emblazoned with Hallmark greeting card logos. David had never been much of a writer, nor had anyone else she had dated. What would such a man be like? she wondered. Would he be as caring in person as the letter seemed to imply? She lathered and rinsed her hair, the questions slipping from her mind as the cool water rolled down her body. She washed the rest of her body with a washcloth and moisturizing soap, spent longer in the shower than she had to, and finally stepped out of the stall. She looked at herself in the mirror as she toweled off. Not too bad for a thirty-six-year-old with an adolescent son, she thought to herself. Her breasts had always been smallish, and though it had bothered her when she was younger, she was glad now because they hadn't started to sag or droop like those of other women her age. Her stomach was flat, and her legs were long and lean from all the exercise over the years. Nor did the crow's-feet around the corners of her eyes seem to show as much, though that didn't make any sense. All in all, she was pleased with how she looked this morning, and she attributed her unusually easy acceptance of herself to being on vacation. After putting on a little makeup, she dressed in beige shorts, a sleeveless white blouse, and brown sandals. It would be hot and humid in another hour, and she wanted to be comfortable as she walked around Provincetown. She looked out the bathroom window, saw that the sun had risen even higher, and made a note to pick up some sunscreen. Her skin would burn if she didn't, and she'd learned from experience that a sunburn was one of the quickest ways to ruin a beach trip. Outside on the deck, Deanna had set breakfast on the table. There was cantaloupe and grapefruit, along with toasted bagels. After taking her seat, she spread some low-fat cream cheese on them-Deanna was on one of her endless diets again-and the two of them talked for a long while. Brian was out golfing, as he would be every day this week, and he had to go in the early morning because he was on some sort of medication that Deanna said "does awful things to his skin if he spends too much time in the sun." Brian and Deanna had been together thirty-six years. College sweethearts, they'd married the summer after graduation, right after Brian accepted a job with an accounting firm in downtown Boston. Eight years later Brian became a partner and they bought a spacious house in Brookline, where they had lived alone for the past twenty-eight years. They had always wanted children, but after six years of marriage Deanna had yet to become pregnant. They went to see a gynecologist and discovered that Deanna's fallopian tubes had been scarred and that having a child was impossible. They tried to adopt for several years, but the list seemed never-ending, and they eventually gave up hope. Then came the dark years, she once confided to Theresa, a time when the marriage almost failed. But their commitment, though shaken, remained solid, and Deanna turned to work to fill the void in her life. She started at the Boston Times when women were rare and gradually worked her way up the corporate ladder. When she became managing editor ten years ago, she began to take women reporters under her wing. Theresa had been her first student. After Deanna had gone upstairs to shower, Theresa looked through the paper briefly, then checked her watch. She rose from her seat and went to the phone to dial David's number. It was still early there, only seven o'clock, but she knew the whole family would be awake by now. Kevin always rose at the crack of dawn, and for once she was thankful that someone else had to share in that wonderful experience. She paced back and forth as the phone rang a few times before Annette picked up. Theresa could hear the TV in the background and the sound of a crying baby. "Hi. It's Theresa. Is Kevin around?" "Oh, hi. Of course he's here. Hold on for just a second." The phone clunked down on the counter and Theresa listened as Annette called for him: "Kevin, it's for you. Theresa's on the phone." The fact that she wasn't referred to as Kevin's mom hurt more than she expected, but she didn't have time to dwell on it. Kevin was out of breath when he reached the phone. "Hey, Mom. How're you doing? How's your vacation?" She felt a pang of loneliness at the sound of his voice. It was still high, childlike, but she knew it was only a matter of time before it changed. "It's beautiful, but I only got here yesterday night. I haven't done much except for jogging this morning." "Were there a lot of people on the beach?" "No, but I saw a few people heading out as I finished. Hey, when do you take off with your dad?" "In a couple days. His vacation doesn't start until Monday, so that's when we leave. Right now he's getting ready to go into the office to do some work so that he'll be free and clear by the time we go. Do you want to talk to him?" "No, I don't have to. I was just calling to tell you that I hope you'll have a good time." "It's going to be a blast. I saw a brochure on the river trip. Some of the rapids look pretty cool." "Well, you be careful." "Mom, I'm not a kid anymore." "I know. Just reassure your old-fashioned mother." "Okay, I promise. I'll wear my life jacket the whole time." He paused for a moment. "You know, we're not going to have a phone, though, so we won't be able to talk until I get back." "I figured as much. It should be a lot of fun, though." "It'll be awesome. I wish that you could come with us. We'd have a great time." She closed her eyes for a moment before responding, a trick her therapist had taught her. Whenever Kevin said something about the three of them being together again, she always tried to make sure she said nothing that she'd later regret. Her voice sounded as optimistic as she could make it. "You and your dad need some time alone. I know he's missed you a lot. You've got some catching up to do, and he's been looking forward to this trip as long as you have." There, that wasn't so hard. "Did he tell you that?" "Yes. A few times." Kevin was quiet. "I'll miss you, Mom. Can I call you as soon as I get back to tell you about the trip?" "Of course. You can call me anytime. I'd love to hear all about it." Then, "I love you, Kevin." "I love you too, Mom." She hung up the phone, feeling both happy and sad, which was how she usually felt whenever they talked on the phone when he was with his father. "Who was that?" Deanna said from behind her. She had come down the stairs wearing a yellow tiger-striped blouse, red shorts, white socks, and a pair of Reeboks. Her outfit screamed "I'm a tourist!" and Theresa did her best to keep a straight face. "It was Kevin. I gave him a call." "Is he doing okay?" She opened the closet and grabbed a camera to complete the ensemble. "He's fine. He leaves in a couple of days." "Good, that's good." She draped the camera around her neck. "And now that that's taken care of, we have some shopping to do. We've got to get you looking like a new woman." * * * Shopping with Deanna was an experience. Once they got to Provincetown, they spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in a variety of shops. Theresa bought three new outfits and a new swimsuit before Deanna dragged her into a place called Nightingales, a lingerie shop. Deanna went absolutely wild in there. Not for herself, of course, but for Theresa. She would pick up lacy, see-through underwear and matching bras off the racks and hold them up for Theresa to evaluate. "This looks pretty steamy," she'd say, or, "You don't have any this color, do you?" Naturally there would be others around as she blurted these things out, and Theresa couldn't help but laugh whenever she did it. Deanna's lack of inhibition was one of the things that Theresa loved most about her. She really didn't care what other people thought, and Theresa often wished she could be more like her. After taking two of Deanna's suggestions-she was on vacation, after all-the two spent a couple of minutes in the record store. Deanna wanted the latest CD from Harry Connick Jr.-"He's cute," she said in explanation-and Theresa bought a jazz CD of one of John Coltrane's earlier recordings. When they returned to the house, Brian was reading the paper in the living room. "Hey there. I was beginning to get worried about you two. How was your day?" "It was good," Deanna answered. "We had lunch in Provincetown, then did a little shopping. How did your game go today?" "Pretty well. If I hadn't bogeyed the last two holes, I would have shot an eighty." "Well, you're just going to have to play a little more until you get it right." Brian laughed. "You won't mind?" "Of course not." Brian smiled as he rustled the paper, content with the fact that he could spend a lot of time on the course this week. Recognizing his signal that he wanted to get back to reading, Deanna whispered in Theresa's ear, "Take it from me. Let a man play golf and he'll never raise a fuss about anything." * * * Theresa left the two of them alone for the rest of the afternoon. Since the day was still warm, she changed into the new suit she had bought, grabbed a towel and small fold-up chair and People magazine, then went to the beach. She thumbed idly through People, reading a few articles here and there, not really interested in what was happening to the rich and famous. All around her she could hear the laughter of children as they splashed in the water and filled their pails with sand. Off to one side of her were two young boys and a man, presumably their father, building a castle near the water's edge. The sound of the lapping waves was soothing. She put down the magazine and closed her eyes, angling her face toward the sun. She wanted a little color by the time she got back to work, if for no other reason than to look as though she had taken some time to do absolutely nothing. Even at work she was regarded as the type who was always on the go. If she wasn't writing her weekly column, she was working on the column for the Sunday editions, or researching on the Internet, or poring over child development journals. She had subscriptions at work to every major parenting magazine and every childhood magazine, as well as others devoted to working women. She also subscribed to medical journals, scanning them regularly for topics that might be suitable. The column itself was never predictable-perhaps that was one of the reasons it was so successful. Sometimes she responded to questions, other times she reported on the latest child development data and what it meant. A lot of columns were about the joys that came with raising children, while others described the pitfalls. She wrote of the struggles of single motherhood, a subject that seemed to touch a nerve in the lives of Boston women. Unexpectedly, her column had turned her into a local celebrity of sorts. But even though it was fun in the beginning to see her picture above her column, or to receive invitations to private parties, she always had so much going on, she didn't seem to have time to enjoy it. Now she regarded it as just another feature of the job-one that was nice but didn't really mean much to her. After an hour in the sun, Theresa realized she was hot and walked to the water. She waded in to her hips, then went under as a small wave approached. The cool water made her gasp when her head came up, and a man standing next to her chuckled. "Refreshing, isn't it?" he said, and she agreed with a nod as she crossed her arms. He was tall with dark hair the same color as hers, and for a second she wondered if he was flirting with her. But the children nearby quickly ended that illusion with shouts of "Dad!" and after a few more minutes in the water, she got out and walked back to her chair. The beach was clearing out. She packed up her things as well and started back. At the house, Brian was watching golf on television and Deanna was reading a novel with a picture of a young, handsome lawyer on the cover. Deanna looked up from her book. "How was the beach?" "It was great. The sun felt wonderful, but the water kind of shocks you when you go under." "It always does. I don't see how people can stand to be in it for more than a few minutes." Theresa hung the towel on a rack by the door. She spoke over her shoulder. "How's the book?" Deanna turned the book over in her hands and glanced at the cover. "Wonderful. It reminds me of how Brian used to look a few years back." Brian grunted without looking away from the television. "Huh?" "Nothing, sweetheart. Just reminiscing." She turned her attention back to Theresa. Her eyes were shining. "Are you up for some gin rummy?" Deanna loved card games of any kind. She was in two bridge clubs, played hearts like a champion, and kept a record of every time she won a game of solitaire. But gin rummy had always been the game that she and Theresa played when they had time, because it was the only game that Theresa actually stood a chance of winning. "Sure." Deanna folded the page with glee, put down her book, and rose from her seat. "I hoped you'd say that. The cards are on the table outside." Theresa wrapped the towel around her suit and went outside to the table where they had eaten breakfast earlier. Deanna followed shortly with two cans of diet Coke and sat across from her as she picked up the deck. She shuffled the cards and dealt them. Deanna looked up from her hand. "It looks like you got a little color in your cheeks. The sun must have been pretty intense." Theresa started organizing her cards. "I felt like I was baking." "Did you meet anyone interesting?" "Not really. Just read and relaxed in the sun. Most everyone there was with their families." "That's too bad." "Why do you say that?" "Well, I was kind of hoping you'd meet someone special this week." "You're special." "You know what I mean. I was kind of hoping you'd find yourself a man this week. One that took your breath away." Theresa looked up in surprise. "What brought that on?" "The sun, the ocean, the breezes. I don't know. Maybe it's the extra radiation soaking through my brain." "I haven't really been looking, Deanna." "Never?" "Not much, anyway." "Ah ha!" "Don't make a big deal out of it. It hasn't been that long since the divorce." Theresa put down the six of diamonds, and Deanna picked it up before discarding the three of clubs. Deanna spoke in the same tone her mother did when they talked about the same thing. "It's been almost three years. Don't you have anyone on the back burner that you've been hiding from me?" "No." "No one?" Deanna picked from the stack of cards and discarded a four of hearts. "Nope. But it's not only me, you know. It's hard to meet people these days. It's not like I have time to go out and socialize." "I know that, I really do. It's just that you've got so much to offer someone. I know there's someone out there for you somewhere." "I'm sure there is. I just haven't met him yet." "Are you even looking?" "When I can. But my boss is a real stickler, you know. Won't give me a moment's rest." "Maybe I should talk to her." "Maybe you should," Theresa agreed, and they both laughed. Deanna picked from the stack and discarded a seven of spades. "Have you been dating at all?" "Not really. Not since Matt What's-his-name told me he didn't want a woman with children." Deanna scowled for a moment. "Sometimes men can be real jerks, and he was a perfect example. He's the kind of guy whose head belongs mounted on a wall with a plaque that reads 'Typical Egocentric Male.' But they aren't all like that. There are lots of real men out there-men who could fall in love with you at the drop of a hat." Theresa picked up the seven and discarded a four of diamonds. "That's why I like you, Deanna. You say the sweetest things." Deanna picked from the stack. "It's true, though. Believe me. You're pretty, you're successful, you're intelligent. I could find a dozen men who would love to go out with you." "I'm sure you could. But that doesn't mean that I would like them." "You're not even giving it a chance." Theresa shrugged. "Maybe not. But that doesn't mean I'll die alone in some boardinghouse for old maids later in life. Believe me, I'd love to fall in love again. I'd love to meet a wonderful guy and live happily ever after. I just can't make it a priority right now. Kevin and work take all my time as it is." Deanna didn't reply for a moment. She threw down a two of spades. "I think you're scared." "Scared?" "Absolutely. Not that there's anything wrong with that." "Why do you say that?" "Because I know how much David hurt you, and I know I'd be frightened of the same thing happening again if it were me. It's human nature. Once burned, twice shy, the old saying goes. There's a lot of truth in that." "There probably is. But I'm sure if the right man comes along, I'll know it. I have faith." "What kind of man are you looking for?" "I don't know. . . ." "Sure you do. Everyone knows a little bit about what they want." "Not everyone." "Sure you do. Start with the obvious, or if you can't do that, start with what you don't want-like . . . is it all right if he's in a motorcycle gang?" Theresa smiled and picked from the stack. Her hand was coming together. Another card and she'd be done. She threw down the jack of hearts. "Why are you so interested?" "Oh, just humor an old friend, will you?" "Fine. No motorcycle gang, that's for sure," she said with a shake of her head. She thought for a moment. "Um . . . I guess most of all, he'd have to be the kind of man who would be faithful to me, faithful to us, throughout our relationship. I've already had another kind of man, and I can't go through something like that again. And I think I'd like someone my own age or close to it, if possible, as well." Theresa stopped there and frowned a little. "And?" "Give me a second-I'm thinking. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I guess I'd go with the standard clichés-I'd like him to be handsome, kind, intelligent, and charming-you know, all those good things that women want in a man." Again she paused. Deanna picked up the jack. Her expression showed her pleasure at putting Theresa on the spot. "And?" "He would have to spend time with Kevin as if he were his own son-that's really important to me. Oh-and he'd have to be romantic, too. I'd love to receive some flowers now and then. And athletic, too. I can't respect a man if I could beat him in arm wrestling." "That's it?" "Yep, that's all." "So, let me see if I've got this right. You want a faithful, charming, handsome, thirty-something-year-old man, who's also intelligent, romantic, and athletic. And he has to be good with Kevin, right?" "You got it." She took a deep breath as she laid her hand on the table. "Well, at least you're not picky. Gin." * * * After losing decisively in gin rummy, Theresa went inside to start one of the books she'd brought with her. She sat in the window seat along the back side of the house while Deanna went back to her own book. Brian found yet another golf tournament and spent the afternoon watching it avidly, making comments to no one in particular whenever something caught his interest. At six that evening-and, more important, after the golf tournament had ended-Brian and Deanna went for a walk along the beach. Theresa stayed behind and watched from the window as they strolled hand in hand along the water's edge. They had an ideal relationship, she thought as she watched them. They had completely different interests, yet that seemed to keep them together instead of driving them apart. After the sun went down, the three of them drove to Hyannis and had dinner at Sam's Crabhouse, a thriving restaurant that deserved its reputation. It was crowded and they had to wait an hour for seats, but the steamed crabs and drawn butter were worth it. The butter had been flavored with garlic, and among the three of them they went through six beers in two hours. Toward the end of dinner, Brian asked about the letter that had washed up. "I read it when I got back from golfing. Deanna had pinned it to the refrigerator." Deanna shrugged and laughed. She turned to Theresa with an "I told you someone would do that" look in her eyes but said nothing. "It washed up on the beach. I found it when I was jogging." Brian finished his beer and went on. "It was quite a letter. It seemed so sad." "I know. That's how I felt when I read it." "Do you know where Wrightsville Beach is?" "No. I've never heard of it." "It's in North Carolina," Brian said as he reached into a pocket for a cigarette. "I had a golf trip down there once. Great courses. A little flat, but playable." Deanna chimed in with a nod. "With Brian, everything is somehow connected to golf." Theresa asked, "Where in North Carolina?" Brian lit his cigarette and inhaled. As he exhaled, he spoke. "Near Wilmington-or actually, it might even be a part of it-I'm not exactly sure about the boundaries. If you're driving, it's about an hour and a half north of Myrtle Beach. Have you ever heard of the movie Cape Fear ?" "Sure." "The Cape Fear River is in Wilmington, and that's where both of the movies were set. Actually, a lot of movies are filmed there. Most of the major studios have a presence in town. Wrightsville Beach is an island right off the coast. Very developed-it's almost a resort community now. It's where a lot of the stars stay while they're on location filming." "How come I've never heard of it?" "I don't know. I guess it doesn't get much attention because of Myrtle Beach, but it's popular down south. The beaches are beautiful-white sand, warm water. It's a great place to spend a week if you ever get the chance." Theresa didn't respond, and Deanna spoke again with a hint of mischief in her tone. "So, now we know where our mystery writer is from." Theresa shrugged. "I suppose so, but there's still no way to tell for sure. It could have been a place where they vacationed or visited. It doesn't mean he lives there." Deanna shook her head. "I don't think so. The way the letter was written-it just seemed like his dream was too real to include a place he had only been to once or twice." "You've really given this some thought, haven't you?" "Instincts. You learn to go with them, and I'd be willing to bet that Wrightsville Beach or Wilmington is his home." "So what?" Deanna reached over to Brian's hand, took the cigarette, breathed deeply, and kept it as her own. She had done this for years. In her mind, because she didn't light it, she wasn't officially addicted. Brian, without seeming to notice what she had done, lit another. Deanna leaned forward. "Have you given any more thought to having the letter published?" "Not really. I still don't know if it's a good idea." ""How about if we don't use their names-just their initials? We can even change the name of Wrightsville Beach, if you want to." "Why is this so important to you?" "Because I know a good story when I see one. More than that, I think that this would be meaningful to a lot of people. Nowadays, people are so busy that romance seems to be slowly dying out. This letter shows that it's still possible." Theresa absently reached for a strand of hair and began to twist it. A habit since childhood, it was what she did whenever she was thinking about something. After a long moment, she finally responded. "All right." "You'll do it?" "Yes, but like you said, we'll use only their initials and we'll omit the part about Wrightsville Beach. And I'll write a couple of sentences to introduce it." "I'm so glad," Deanna cried with girlish enthusiasm. "I knew you would. We'll fax it in tomorrow." Later that night, Theresa wrote out the beginning of the column in longhand on some stationery she found in the desk drawer in the den. When she was finished, she went to her room, set the two pages on the bedstand behind her, then crawled into bed. That night she slept fitfully. * * * The following day, Theresa and Deanna went into Chatham and had the letter typed in a print shop. Since neither of them had brought their portable computers and Theresa was insistent that the column not include certain information, it seemed like the most logical thing to do. When the column was ready, they faxed it in. It would run in the next day's paper. The rest of the morning and afternoon were spent like the day before-shopping, relaxing at the beach, easy conversation, and a delicious dinner. When the paper arrived early the next morning, Theresa was the first to read it. She woke early, finished her run before Deanna and Brian were up, then opened the paper and read the column. Four days ago, while I was on vacation, I was listening to some old songs on the radio and heard Sting singing "Message in a Bottle." Spurred to action by his impassioned crooning, I raced to the beach to find a bottle of my own. Within minutes I found one, and sure enough, it had a message inside. (Actually, I didn't hear the song first: I made that up for dramatic effect. But I did find a bottle the other morning with a deeply moving message inside.) I haven't been able to get it off my mind, and although it isn't something I'd normally write about, in a time where everlasting love and commitment seem to be in such short supply, I was hoping you would find it as meaningful as I did. The rest of the column was devoted to the letter. When Deanna joined Theresa for breakfast, she read the column as well before looking at anything else. "Marvelous," she said when she finished. "It looks even better in print than I thought it would. You're going to get a lot of mail from this column." "Do you think so?" "Absolutely. I'm sure of it." "Even more than usual?" "Tons more. I can feel it. In fact, I'm going to call John today. I'm going to have him place this on the wire a couple times this week. You may even get some Sunday runs with this one." "We'll see," Theresa said as she ate a bagel, not really sure whether to believe Deanna or not, but curious nonetheless.