Slowing down was not part of Alex’s nature. Venturing into unknown territory, taking the photograph no one else could get, that was what he lived for.

She just needed to convince Alex to go along with it. But he was a lot like his father- stubborn, secretive, and always leaving to go somewhere. It was no wonder he wasn’t married. He couldn’t commit, couldn’t settle, couldn’t put a woman before his work-just like Charles.

He was definitely not a nine-to-five business executive or a corporate worker bee. He was a photojournalist who roamed the world, a free spirit. No wonder he’d chosen to live here when he was in town. “This neighborhood fits you,” she said.

He nodded in agreement. “It does. Freedom to be different is a luxury in many corners of the world. It’s nice to be reminded that it still exists here in San Francisco.”

“Sometimes strangers end up lovers,” Dasha said. “It happened to me when a stranger asked to share my umbrella in the rain.” A soft look came into her eyes. “We were both supposed to be with other people. We’d made promises, but love doesn’t always go as one plans, and sometimes promises have to be broken. We’ve been together forty-two years now, and we’ve been through many rough storms, but they’re easier to bear when there’s an umbrella to share and a stranger who has become a good friend.” Dasha smiled and returned to the deli counter.

The next day Julia attended Sunday morning Mass surrounded by DeMarcos. They took up almost three rows at St. Mark’s Catholic Church. This was her family. This was her place in the world, she thought, as the priest spoke about community. It was almost as if he were speaking directly to her, telling her that the most important thing in the world was to cherish the people around her.

She stared at his hard profile. He looked so alone, so lost in his misery. She wanted to help him, but he wouldn’t let her. He was a proud man who had high expectations for himself. He didn’t tolerate failure or incompetence, and right now he was blaming himself for something he couldn’t have prevented.

It’s true I’m confused. But the one thing I’ve come to realize in the past few days is that I want to live my life to the fullest. I don’t want to have regrets. I don’t want to stop myself from asking questions or stating my opinion because I’m afraid the person I’m talking to will get hurt. I want to be free, Michael. I want to travel. I want to work on my music, on my goals. And I don’t want to cheat myself or you. That’s what I’d be doing if I married you.”

“I doubt that will ever happen. I’m far too inhibited.” She licked her lips as his gaze roamed her face, as if he were searching for all her personal secrets. There were some things she didn’t want to share with him.

“Are you inhibited?” he asked. “Or is that just the way you’ve been raised to be?”  “It’s the same thing.”   “It’s not. I believe we’re influenced by our environment, the people in our lives.”  “I suppose that’s true. My mother was very big on rules and doing the right thing, telling the truth, never going astray. She and my father made such a big, happy family life for us that it was easy to be content in it. It wasn’t until she died that I started to look around and wonder what else I wanted. I must say it’s difficult to believe she might have been the biggest liar of all.” Every time Julia thought about the lies, her heart hurt.

She loved the way his mind worked. He was sharp, perceptive, interesting-a truly fascinating man. He lived a life that she wanted. Not the photography part, but the traveling part.

“How can you be so patient?” she asked. “I thought you were a man of action.”

“When it’s called for. But I also know how to wait for the perfect light, the right angle, and the clearest view. Your mind takes photographs of everything you see just the way a camera does. Eventually it will develop those early pictures for you.”

Alex shrugged, kicking off his shoes. “Never look back,” he advised. “It doesn’t do any good.”