The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.3: Defining Needs and Desires

Bliss

We could all use a little more bliss in our lives. We sure don’t need any more taxes or longer hours on the job. Happiness, harmony, and enjoyment of life should be our goal. If bliss is not an interpersonal need of yours, make it one. Starting now. If you look closely, you can find bliss in the simple things in life. Some people find it in a hot bath or a cold beer. Others find it in a child’s laugh or tending a flower garden. One of my sons always found it at the end of a torrential rain. I would complain about forgetting the umbrella when I dropped him off at Kindergarten, and he would blissfully announce, “Don’t worry Dad, a rainbow always comes out when the rain stops!”

You can find bliss in your romantic relationship as well, but don’t be dependent on your relationship to provide it. Your need for bliss should start with you. The famous singer, John Denver, had bliss in abundance in his life. He saw it, felt it, and experienced it in the nature surrounding him. We can hear it in his music. Through the ups and downs in his early career, he followed his heart and maintained his passion for writing songs. Whether you’re chasing your dream or the girl next door, make bliss a high priority need in your life.

Sex

Women tend to think men are only interested in sex. While that may be true…

Seriously, some men are only interested in sex. Others, not so much. But a desire for sexual relations is not a bad thing. Great sex in a committed, monogamous relationship can strengthen the relationship. According to Dr. John Gray, a certified family therapist and author of Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, women have a tendency to underestimate the importance of sex for men. As Dr. Gray explains it, sex allows a man to feel his need for love, whereas women are receptive to love as a way to help drive their desire for sex. The interpersonal need for sex exists, to some extent, in all of us. It’s part of our DNA. Some men and women require more frequent sexual activity than others, depending on where their need for sex fits into their hierarchy of needs and desires.

Unfortunately, there are many times when life’s distractions, either real or imagined, preclude us from enjoying a normal healthy sex life, as work, health issues, personal commitments, and so forth diminish our appetite for sex. To counteract this, we must learn to connect with one another at our most intimate level. In the following chapter, I expand on the path to more fulfilling sex and discuss the significance of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and how romance feeds our sexual desires.

Faith

How far can we get in life without faith? For most of us, not very far. Faith implies a spiritual connotation—a connection with God, if you will. In Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, he writes, “It’s vital that you accept yourself and learn to be happy with who God made you to be. If you want to truly enjoy your life, you must be at peace with yourself.” His book goes on to describe how positive attitudes help determine how we’re going to live our lives. I would take this a step further and surmise these same positive attitudes will help us to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance. But we don’t have to subscribe to the evangelical Christian philosophy to accept the importance of faith in our lives. Whether we believe in God or not, faith represents an interpersonal need defined not only by our belief in a higher power, but by belief in ourselves. With all the craziness we endure in our day to day lives, with all the mass media garbage we’re exposed to, with all the senseless politics at work and in our own government, with all the random acts of violence and devastating acts of mother nature, it can be easy at times to surrender our hope in humanity. Faith can overpower these negative influences in our lives and help us achieve stronger intimacy, better health, less stress, and more bliss. Without faith, we lose hope. Without hope, we lose everything.

The Peril of Unmet Needs

If our desires go unmet, our romantic relationships may stall a bit; however, if our needs go unmet, the relationship will suffer. As individuals, we recognize when our own needs and desires are not met, but how do we know if our partner’s needs and desires are being met? If you receive the death stare from your beloved every time you enter the room, chances are, some need, desire, or both is not being met. Communication is king. Talk about your feelings. Share your opinions. Vent your frustrations. But most importantly, use what works in your relationship to communicate effectively to understand each other’s needs. Sometimes relationship issues are symptoms of larger problems, where the root cause links to unfulfilled needs. If our needs go unmet, our core values suffer. And if our core values suffer, our romantic relationship will falter.

If our need for intimacy goes unfulfilled, we start to question our partner’s commitment to the relationship. If our need for independence goes unfulfilled, we resent the loss of freedom, autonomy, or solitude. If our need for empathy goes unmet, we resent our partner’s lack of compassion or misinterpret what we perceive to be their lack of compassion. This hampers the level of trust in our romantic relationship.

The bottom line: the more needs left unmet, the more problems our romantic relationships must endure. But sometimes our needs are not completely unmet so much as not quite fulfilled. If too many needs go unmet for a significant period of time, then chances are the person we’re with may not be capable of fulfilling our needs. For to do so may require him or her to change who they are fundamentally. In this case, we should take a hard look at our relationship and accept that this person might not be the right one for us. If, on the other hand, our needs are partially met but not completely fulfilled, then there’s room to work. Communication plays a large role. So does compromise and commitment. It takes work and patience, but if both individuals maintain a need to be involved in a meaningful and lasting romance, and if the right chemistry exists, they stand a chance of finding common ground and working through their relationship issues.

Summary of Needs and Desires

In my single, adult years, I’ve had the privilege of dating many wonderful women, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I chose to end my relationships in short order. At times, I blamed my misfortune on a fear of commitment, or convinced myself I simply met the wrong person. But more often than not, I attributed the problem to my needs not being met. Not necessarily my primary relationship needs, but broader needs instilled in my life but not acknowledged or completely understood until I took a step back and thought about them. For me, spending time with my children, devoting time to my career to provide for my family, and maintaining a strict exercise regiment were all high priority needs. Over time, I discovered how these needs directly influenced my secondary needs, which included time to enjoy my favorite recreational activities.

Upon further reflection, I realized I did—and still do—have a strong desire to be involved in a romantic relationship with the right person, but my primary needs—and most of my secondary ones as well—have to come first. In the past, my higher priority needs often overshadowed my desire for romantic involvement. And only when my needs were met, could I give myself fully to a romantic relationship. To put this another way, I came to understand how a romantic relationship for me had to evolve beyond a desire and become a fundamental need. A balancing act at times, especially for a very independent person.

I’ve shared my personal story as a way to conclude this chapter on needs and desires. Now I encourage you to conduct your own self analysis and think hard about your highest priority needs and desires. Some will be obvious, and some will not. If you’re twenty-two years old, never been married, and don’t have children, your primary needs will be much different than those of a single parent in their forties. If you’re currently involved in a romantic relationship, one you’re happy with or not, ask yourself if both you and your partner’s needs are being met.

The concept of defining and fully understanding our needs and desires resonates throughout this book. Even something as random and difficult to quantify as chemistry, correlates to our personal needs and desires. Discovering our deeper needs requires time and patience for personal reflection. Even in the most intimate and loving of relationships, we must remain aware of and respect our own needs and desires to identify the most significant ones and to challenge our own assertions. Sometimes certain needs turn out to be less important than we thought. And sometimes we turn away from things we don’t understand. But with an open mind and an open heart, the pieces eventually fall into place. Now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of core values and the significance of defining your relationship needs and desires, the first of 4Cs to a meaningful and lasting romance awaits.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.2: Defining Needs and Desires

Exploring Our Needs and Desires

Now let’s move beyond my personal examples for a moment and focus on your own needs and desires. Don’t over-think it. You know yourself better than anyone. Remember, your needs are steadfast. They are non-negotiable, and for the most part, they do not change. They also tend to be more objective and less subjective than desires. Specific needs are tailored to individuals who share certain beliefs about the type of qualities they seek in a romantic partner. But in general, there are basic relationship needs the vast majority of us would require from our romantic partner. Some of these might include:

  • Well groomed
  • Compassionate
  • Drug free
  • Clean record
  • Single and not secretly married
  • Even tempered

In these above examples of needs, your partner either uses drugs or not. He or she has either been convicted or not. Pretty basic stuff. On the flip side, if you indulge in a fine cigar now and then, you might prefer a partner who does the same. I’m not judging people’s personal preferences or lifestyle choices. I’m merely trying to convey the importance of discerning between the qualities you need someone to have and those you merely desire.

Now here are some examples of more subjective needs that border more closely toward desires and include qualities and characteristics someone might prefer. Again, the key word is subjective. This list might comprise high priority needs for some of us and not even register for others.

  • Nice hair
  • Sharp dresser
  • Patient
  • Sensual
  • Creative
  • Reliable

These last few examples describe subjective needs some of us might qualify as desires. Your personal preferences will vary. And in a similar fashion to defining needs, you should define your own desires, which might include some, all, or none of the following from your romantic partner:

  • Attractive
  • Intelligent
  • Sense of humor
  • Good listener
  • Enjoys an active lifestyle
  • Drives a nice car
  • Makes lots of money
  • Likes to cook

In these examples of desires—which could easily be defined as needs if you feel strongly enough about their importance in your romantic relationship—I’ve cited attributes you might wish your partner to possess. They are negotiable to a certain extent, and they comprise characteristics, values, or material goods you deem important, but not essential, to your romantic relationship. Unlike your list of needs, your list of desires can be highly subjective. You might desire to be with someone who is both attractive and intelligent but settle for someone with more of one quality than the other. A sense of humor might describe someone who likes to laugh but tells bad jokes or someone who brings the house down with their razor sharp wit and perpetual one-liners. You might decide an active lifestyle includes an average partner who enjoys tennis or golf. Or you might decide you need someone who trains seven days a week. The point is, you should allow your desires to be flexible. Some desires will be stronger than others. Good kisser might be high on the top of your priority list while the desire for someone who knows how to cook might not.

Of course there’s always the case where you don’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. That’s why it’s important to date different people before making an exclusive commitment. I’m not condoning promiscuity or promoting poor judgment by acting in a manner of false intentions. I’m simply saying you can learn a lot about your own needs and desires by understanding what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually, you will come to terms not only with identifying your highest priority needs, but with learning to decide which needs hold greater value for you than others. Think about it. Does your need for companionship outweigh your need to spend more time at work? Does your need for sexual gratification outweigh your need for stimulating conversation? Is your need for personal space greater than your need to spend significant time together? Does your need for someone of strong faith outweigh your need for someone who bestows you with copious amounts of kindness and affection?

Years ago, I met a lovely woman through an online dating site. Her profile indicated she worked as an engineer and shared a variety of common interests with me. After several email exchanges and a few phone calls to one another, we met for coffee. I found her as equally attractive in person as I did on paper. She seemed to meet my basic needs and several of my higher priority desires—as I’d defined both my needs and desires at that time. After talking with her for an hour or so, I found her intellect to be her most attractive feature. Of course I found her physically attractive as well, but more than her pretty smile and soft brown eyes, I found myself drawn to her intelligence. As one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met, she defined a need I never realized I had—the need to be with someone with a strong intellectual capacity. I don’t mean smart versus dumb. I mean someone who can think at a deep level on a variety of topics. Until that date, I’d never realized the significance of intellectual stimulation. Unknowingly at first, I’d uncovered a high priority need.

Remember, your needs and desires can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. But rather than turn your pursuit of romantic bliss into a dissertation on every physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual need and desire you can think of, start with first defining your highest priority needs and desires and then step away and ponder them for awhile. Maybe dip your toe into the dating pool and make some new friends. Experience what you believe you need and desire as well as what you didn’t realize you need and desire. You might be surprised at what you learn.

A Look at Interpersonal Needs

Some of our highest priority needs have nothing to do with the qualities or characteristics we seek from a potential romantic partner. Instead, these high priority needs come from within. I call these our interpersonal needs. Your list might be slightly different, but I think you’d agree the following interpersonal needs are ones which most of us cannot live well without:

  • Intimacy
  • Health
  • Time
  • Independence
  • Hope
  • Bliss
  • Sex
  • Faith

Intimacy

In the words of Mathew Kelly, author of The Seven Levels of Intimacy, “You can survive without intimacy, but you cannot thrive without it.” Kelly’s book goes on to explain the various levels of intimacy and how happiness and intimacy are intertwined. For the most part, I agree with his philosophy. I also agree that intimacy has a much broader definition than sex. In the words of Hara Estroff, Editor at Large for Psychology Today, “Sex is easy, intimacy is difficult. It requires honesty, openness, self-disclosure, confiding concerns, fears, sadness as well as hopes and dreams.”

From my personal viewpoint, intimacy is essential. Like the air we breathe, intimacy helps nurture our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. Intimacy implies closeness, belonging, and trust. It represents a fundamental need we all share, and one our romantic relationships demand.

Health

Without good physical and mental health, we have nothing. Compromise elsewhere in your relationship but don’t sacrifice your health. Make exercise a priority in your life. Quit smoking. Get off the fast food wagon. If you value your life, you should value your health. Don’t sacrifice sufficient rest to please your partner’s desire to stay up all night. Decide for yourself which schedule works best for you to ensure a good night’s sleep. A healthy body helps promote a healthy mind.

Our health can be easy to undervalue and hard to reclaim when it’s diminished. Genetic dispositions aside, we are the masters of our own domain, free to weigh the pros and cons of a healthy lifestyle. The only absolute certainty in life is death. And the longer we can postpone our final days, the longer we have to enjoy the time in between.

Don’t make the mistake of equating physical fitness with arduous workouts, as not everyone enjoys the same activities. If you hate running, then don’t run. Not a swimmer? Then skip the expensive gym with the indoor pool. Walk the neighborhood. Ride a bike. Rollerblade. Play tennis. Shoot hoops. Try Jazzercise, Zumba, Pilates, or any aerobics class set to music. Buy a workout video or try boxing on the Wii. Dance the Tango, the Salsa, or whatever peeks your interest. In other words, make fitness fun. If you don’t, you won’t commit to it.

Need extra motivation? Spend ninety-nine dollars on a Fitbit, an electronic wristband-type device used to help you monitor your daily fitness activities by tracking your movements, literally, in terms of distance walked, stairs climbed, and calories burned—think fancy digital pedometer that actually works, not one of those clunky, inconsistent, belt-worn devices of yesteryear. With the Fitbit, you track your progress by syncing your exercise data to your computer or smartphone. Simple graphics make it easy to view your fitness statistics and show how you’re progressing toward your goals. The Fitbit aside, I use an old-school approach by manually recording time and distance data from my bicycle rides to a logbook that tracks my progress on a weekly, monthly, and yearly scale.

The action of monitoring our progress and recording the results to provide ourselves with instant feedback has been used successfully by amateur and professional athletes for decades. Scientists define this concept as a “feedback loop” comprised of four parts: evidence—defined as progress recorded, relevance—comparing our actual fitness activities to our fitness goals, consequence—from failing to meet our stated fitness goals, and action—facing the cold hard facts about our recorded progress and making the required adjustments to our fitness routine to help us meet our stated goals. It’s more than just a passing fad. Researchers from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, and Children’s National Medical Center are melding feedback loops with modern technology to help effect positive change in human behavior.

Who knows? With enough research and cooperation between academia and industry, smartphones might evolve to smart scales, where we step on the plate to check out our weight and find the digital readout replaced with a synthesized voice declaring, “Put the ice cream back!” Either way, make a healthy lifestyle a high priority need in your life.

Time

Time represents the world’s most valuable commodity. You can’t go back, and you can’t fast forward. You can’t beg, barter, or buy more time. Time wasted is time lost, forever. Make time management a high priority need. Learning to manage your time wisely will help you achieve a healthy work-life balance. We all have to budget time to accommodate our jobs, our families, our friends, and of course our romantic relationships. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate everything and everyone in our lives. It’s okay to ask your romantic partner, “Do you have time for me?” The answer will depend, in part, on the expectations you both set forth. Some people require lots of time together to be happy in a relationship while others not so much. Some people require lots of time to themselves for personal reflection and their independent pursuit of happiness through interests or activities they prefer to enjoy alone. Best-selling author and world-renowned time management expert, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, claims, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” In other words, decide what’s most important to you in your life and make sure you focus on those priorities first. If you think about it, the time is yours to allocate as you wish. Don’t waste it on meaningless, unfulfilling tasks. Make time for yourself and the necessary chores in life, but make sure you pencil in some time for your romantic relationship as well.

Independence

We touched on independence earlier in Chapter I, where I described the concept of core values. In a sense, our core values mirror our interpersonal needs. In this case, the amount of independence required varies from one person to another. Our need for independence is important because it helps us to define who we are as individuals. It keeps us grounded. It empowers us. It also helps us satisfy our biological, physiological, and safety needs as described by Maslow. The capacity to think and act for ourselves provides a powerful tool, and one often overlooked in our romantic relationships, where it’s easy to be swept off our feet by the euphoria of love. I’m not disputing the value of love or the sense of togetherness a romantic relationship can provide. I’m saying it’s important to acknowledge your need for independence, whether minimal or substantial, and make time for yourself to ensure your interpersonal needs are met.

Hope

We all need hope in our lives. Hope for sustained good health. Hope for a better future for our children and ourselves. Hope for a cleaner planet. Hope for a healthier economy. And of course, hope for a meaningful and lasting romance. Hope in itself won’t sustain you, but hope combined with a positive attitude and a strong belief in your core values will keep you on the path to success in your personal life and in your romantic relationship.

A few years back I hurt my right shoulder to the point where I could barely lift my arm above my head without significant pain. I found this extremely disconcerting for two reasons: first, I pride myself on health and fitness through regular exercise involving a variety of cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength training routines which help prevent things like silly shoulder injuries; second, I had no idea how I hurt my shoulder in the first place. I literally had no recollection of anything bad happening to cause the injury. All I knew was that I couldn’t wash the roof of my car, swing a tennis racket, or throw a football more than a few feet without enduring a stabbing pain in the vicinity of my rotator cuff. After months of nursing the mysterious injury by avoiding any movement that provoked it, and after several sports massages, special vitamin supplements, inconclusive x-rays, and bouts of physical therapy, I started losing hope. But instead of accepting defeat and the loss of normal use of my right arm, I started incorporating meditation and large doses of positive thinking. Instead of losing hope, I gained hope through my own devices. Then, gradually, and I mean painstakingly slowly, my shoulder finally returned to normal. In reality, my recovery from the mysterious shoulder injury most likely had more to do with a strict regiment of physical therapy routines at home and avoiding unnecessary movements to exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, I believe the power of positive thinking and hope factored into the equation as well.

I also believe this philosophy can work to our detriment if we dwell on the negative side of things. A specific example comes to mind, where a few years back I’d experienced a succession of flat tires on my road bike in the span of less than two weeks. At that time, I’d been frustrated by a number of negative influences in my life, my bum shoulder being one of many. Uncharacteristically, I’d brought my negative emotions along for the ride during my normal bike routine, where I’d pedal twenty miles or so over the same path to avoid unnecessary traffic and minimize the probability of collision with inattentive drivers who cruise through stop signs or fail to share the road. I found myself riding with a lot of anger and frustration, and one day, after almost precisely ten miles into my ride, the rear tire went flat. This happened not twice, but three times within a two-week period, each time with a new inner tube and no indication of any tire damage when I left my house. Had my negative energy and toxic attitude on these rides rung the karma bell and generated my own fallout three times in succession? Perhaps.

As it turned out, the bike shop finally fessed up to the batch of defective inner tubes their supplier had shipped them. The shop described how the faulty valve stems were prone to leaking—a more likely diagnoses of my uncanny flat tire problem than a flood of negative emotions. Nonetheless, a change of attitude was in order, and sure enough, once I abandoned my gloomy attitude for one of positive energy and hope for better days to come, the flat tire problem ceased. Believe what you will. I believe we have a way of shaping our destiny, for better or worse, and only ourselves to blame when we pursue a course of bad intent.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.1: Defining Needs and Desires

Our core values are an integral part of our needs and desires. Core values represent things we live by. They describe our credo, doctrine, or fundamental belief or practice. To a large extent, our core values drive our needs and desires, which comprise vital and necessary things we strive to attain for ourselves and for our relationships.

Beyond our core values, we all have basic needs we must fulfill and basic desires we would like to fulfill. In our romantic relationships, we define needs as our “must haves,” or “deal breakers,” or “things we can’t live without.” Some examples might include the need to share our lives with someone honest and trustworthy; someone who doesn’t drink excessively, doesn’t use drugs or excessive profanity, and shares our core values. In general, our basic relationship needs are static and do not fluctuate very much over time. They define specific criteria a potential romantic partner must satisfy in order for our romantic relationship to flourish. Our needs can be defined as physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Our highest priority needs are nonnegotiable, regardless of how blue his eyes appear in person or how voluptuous she looks in the plunging neckline of her silky black dress.

In contrast to defining our relationship needs, our desires constitute preferences or “nice to haves.” Unlike our needs, our desires can change and often do as we learn more about ourselves, acquire more life experience, and gain a better understanding of what we want in our romantic relationships. Our desires point to attributes we seek from our romantic partner but don’t necessarily have to have for the relationship to work. For example, a gentleman who is tall, dark and handsome or a lady with long hair and a button nose. We might desire these physical qualities, but if the person we meet doesn’t fit them, we make a judgment call and decide if their other virtues outweigh their perceived shortcomings. The same logic applies to emotional, intellectual, and spiritual qualities as well.

What one person defines as a need, another person might define as a desire and vice versa. In general, however, we all have basic needs we must fulfill in order to function in life. The late psychologist, Abraham Maslow, introduced a Hierarchy of Needs model. In Maslow’s book, Motivation and Personality, he describes his Hierarchy of Needs model in detail. To paraphrase the essence of Maslow’s work, we are each motivated by basic human needs. Maslow describes how we are motivated by these needs and how we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the most fundamental—see bottom of Figure 1, which deals with the biological and physiological aspects of our lives. Our subsequent needs build upon our foundation of biological and physiological needs for air, food, water, etc. When these basic human needs are met, we can then look to meeting our higher level needs for safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and lastly, what Maslow labels, self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs not only describes the categories of needs and the general content of these needs but also the order of importance in which our needs should be addressed. To paraphrase Maslow’s work, we must first satisfy our lower order needs—biological and physiological—before we can effectively concern ourselves with our higher order needs of personal development. In layman’s terms, if you’re starving, you’re focused on the need for sustenance and not your need for safety, belongingness and love. Taking this a step further, if you’re not able to satisfy your need for belongingness, and love, you can’t satisfy your higher level need for self-actualization, defined as a person’s constant effort to grow and develop his or her inherent talents and capabilities.

Borrowing from Maslow’s concept, I believe we follow a similar hierarchy with our needs and desires for our romantic relationships in such a way that if our “nice to have” desires are fulfilled but our fundamental needs are not, the pyramid will collapse, metaphorically speaking. And with it, so shall our meaningful and lasting romance. I expand on this concept by way of example.

First consider Figure 2, drawn to represent a hierarchy of relationship needs and desires I had defined for myself several years ago to describe the type of romantic relationship partner I wanted in my life.

Figure 2: My Initial Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

Obviously, Figure 2 looks similar to Maslow’s, as it should, because I assert that our desires should be built upon our relationship needs in a similar manner to Maslow’s model of building higher order needs on top of lower order needs. After much thought over several failed relationships, I came to realize how little free time I have, and how a lack of face time with someone, especially in the early stages of a new relationship, plays a critical role in getting to know someone on a deeper level. Therefore, I deemed the geographic distance between myself and my potential partner to be a higher priority desire than dating someone who fits my ideal physical image.

In my model of needs and desires, we cannot satisfy our desires without first addressing our mandatory needs. Remember, I’m talking about personal and relationship needs and desires, unlike Maslow who focused on basic human needs. I start with the assumption that your basic biological, physiological, and safety needs, as Maslow defines them, are already fulfilled. If they are not, then you should be focused less on striving for a meaningful and lasting romance and more on your basic human needs for food, shelter, security, etc.

Your personal model might only contain two primary steps, one for high priority needs and one for high priority desires. Or your model might have several steps like mine. If you have too many levels of needs, then you might be describing desires more than needs because the higher up you go in my model of needs and desires described in Figure 2, the lower the priority of your needs. Think highest priority need at the bottom with lower priority needs and desires near the top. Conversely, you might have several layers of desires ranging from things you would like to have to things you absolutely must have. In which case, a high priority desire might actually be a need in disguise.

Remember, our needs describe qualities we must fulfill in our romantic relationships—someone kind, funny, intelligent, handsome, etc.—whereas our desires describe our preferences for qualities we would like to fulfill—brown hair, good dancer, sharp dresser, etc. Recognize these are broad brush examples. Your personal needs and desires can encompass physical, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and spiritual traits. To put it another way, you might desire a ruggedly handsome man, but need someone who listens well or someone with a caring disposition. Or you might decide you need or desire both from your romantic partner.

To some extent, everyone defines their own needs and desires differently. What one person considers a need, another person might label a desire. Furthermore, our needs and desires models are dynamic and subject to change over time as we learn more about ourselves and our relationship partners. While our strongest needs will stay static for the most part, our desires may change. Our priority of desires may change as well. Keep in mind, the picture itself is not important. There doesn’t need to be perfect symmetry between the number of needs and the number of desires on our list. Some of us have simple needs; others, more complex.

Figure 3 is another personal example of a revised needs and desires model.

Figure 3: My Revised Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

If you compare my initial hierarchy of needs and desires from Figure 2 with my revised hierarchy of need and desires from Figure 3, you will notice my highest priority relationship needs did not change over time. Namely, my need for someone who doesn’t smoke, drink excessively, or use drugs. On the other hand, as I dated more and thought about my needs and desires, I decided to add a high priority need for someone who does not want to start a new family. These needs are deemed most important to me. Of course I’ve omitted other equally, or even more important needs, for the sake of brevity and privacy. My point is, our highest priority needs should form the foundation at the base of our own needs model. For many of us, our highest priority needs are obvious and derive from our own values, beliefs, morals, and personal preferences.

As we move up the ladder, so to speak, our next level of needs might not be as obvious. This is due, in part, to the thin line between our lowest priority needs and our highest priority desires. For example, in Figure 3, I state my partner must not want to have more children. For a period of time, it was my high priority desire to not father more children. I very much love the children I have, and in the right circumstance, I could see myself adoring a stepchild as one of my own; however, at this stage in my life, I don’t feel the need to father a newborn child. Therefore, I have a relationship need for my partner to mirror the same sentiment toward not wanting more children. Over time, my desire for not wanting more children shifted from something I might be willing to reconsider—as desires afford us this latitude—to something I would not be willing to reconsider. I no longer had a preference to not father more children—I had a need to not do so.

Putting theory into practice, I can tell you my low priority desire for common interests in music, movies, etc.—from Figure 3—would be meaningless without satisfying my highest priority relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke or use drugs. In other words, a romantic relationship with a woman who satisfies every single one of my stated desires would fail miserably if she enjoyed smoking crack. Granted, that’s an extreme example. In reality, I would never date a crack addict, and by definition, I would not be able to satisfy my relationship desires without having first satisfied the relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke and doesn’t use drugs. Unwritten in my model of needs and desires is the notion of needing someone who shares the same core values, as I will never again involve myself with someone I deem untrustworthy or mean spirited.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 1.3 (Core Values)

Self Discipline

Self discipline serves a great purpose in our lives and especially in our romantic relationships. Self discipline acts like a forcing function to keep our other core values in check. Think of self discipline as the skeleton in our bodies. Without it, we would be nothing more than a blob of tissue and muscle mass. From a psychological perspective, self discipline drives us to set higher standards for ourselves, to achieve our goals, to overcome addictions or other negative influences, to persevere in times of need, and to thrive in times of comfort. Without self discipline, we shed our inner strength, our confidence, and esteem; we see problems and not solutions. Instead of rising toward success, we fall upon failure.

Self discipline represents one of the most powerful tools we have in our cache of core values and plays an integral role in maintaining a meaningful and lasting romance. Self discipline helps us get out of bed; eat healthy—or as close to healthy as we can; stay fit; do our chores; maintain a budget; control our temper; avoid temptations; become better parents; provide for our spiritual growth and self-improvement; and in general, overcome the momentary failures and inevitable setbacks life throws our way. Self discipline helped me pay my way through college, earn a master’s degree, pursue a thriving career, author numerous books, maintain a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle, and become a better father.

Self discipline equates to persistence and perseverance. The persistence to finish a task we start—no matter how trivial or significant—and the perseverance to endure the trials and tribulations along the way. It takes self discipline to train for a race or to write a book, and it takes self discipline to remain attentive to our partners’ needs and desires. Self discipline also helps foster better communication and stronger commitment, topics covered in detail in Chapters IV and VI respectively.

Growing up, I recall my father telling me, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This was usually meant in jest when he proudly displayed his uncanny ability to find a front row parking space at a popular restaurant or some other impossible-to-get-to destination that required the Hubble telescope to find an open spot. I also remember him rebuilding various components from several cars we’d owned over the years, performing never-been-done before repairs with perfection.

On many occasions, I’d find him on a plywood creeper with his hands above his head, blindly fidgeting in the chassis as he calmly explained the nature of his task while his fingers worked their magic like a surgeon. Sometimes bolts wouldn’t turn, parts wouldn’t fit, a component was too long, his reach was too short, or nothing seemed to go together as expected. But in the end, and I mean always in the end, through some act of genius or the will of God, he’d find a way to make it work. Every time. Without fail. No matter how bleak the initial prognosis, I’d hear him say with a smile, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Looking back on those days, his success at fixing cars, home appliances, computers, vacuum cleaners, guns, or anything else manmade, had less to do with luck and more to do with his tremendous self discipline. My father’s willingness to exercise patience, sound judgment, keen intellect, and a positive attitude derived largely from his aptitude for self discipline—the same self discipline that has helped my parents enjoy a meaningful and lasting romance for more than thirty years, raising five beautiful children and me along the way.

Self discipline doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time. It takes practice. Some people are seemingly born with it; others work hard to obtain it. If you’ve got it, hold onto it. If you lack self discipline, take baby steps to learn it. Get up on time. Make proper diet and exercise a priority in your life. Compliment your partner. Write a love note to him or her and hide it somewhere you know they’ll find it. Save what money you can for a rainy day. Even if it’s nothing more than spare change, the act of making a conscious decision to save money, no matter how minimal at first, will have a positive affect on you. The same holds for saving time. A little self discipline in the time management department goes a long way toward reducing stress in your life and in your romantic relationship.

To turn my dad’s phrase around, I’d rather be good than lucky. Unless we’re talking about the lottery, where being good has nothing to do with winning, it’s important to practice self discipline. If we strive to achieve self discipline for ourselves, we’ll achieve it in our romantic relationships. The late Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” Let self discipline help guide you to your next achievement. You don’t have to be the smartest or the fastest or the most well-off. You simply have to be the most determined.

Some key points to remember about the core value of self discipline:

  1. Self discipline can’t be learned in a classroom. Much like learning to speak a new language, you have to exercise your mental muscles until your newfound skill becomes second nature.
  • Strive to be virtuous and stoic in your core values, as these represent the glue in your romantic relationship. Think of self discipline as the clamp that allows this glue to cure and tightly bond your relationship together.
  • A strong romantic relationship can survive a momentary lapse in trust, respect, honesty, or accountability—but only if you have the self discipline to overcome it.
  • Self discipline is what makes the impossible, possible.

Appreciation

People often fall in love and bask in the glory of happily ever after. But at times, even with the best intentions at heart, we fall victim to complacency and begin to lose sight of what we have, and in the process, neglect the critical core value of appreciation. It’s always easy to admire someone we just met and with whom we feel a strong chemistry. For some of us, this initial intensity of a new romance persists for an extended period of time. But for others, we start to take our partner for granted. We don’t talk as often. We don’t listen like we used to. We don’t compliment as often. We sacrifice quality time together to pursue less important activities. This doesn’t mean we necessarily lose respect or admiration for our partners. We simply refrain from making the conscious effort to appreciate what we have and to frequently convey our appreciation. Not surprisingly, authors Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks cite lack of appreciation as one of five issues tied to the erosion of long-term romantic relationships. In their book, Lasting Love, the authors stress the importance of maintaining the flow of appreciation between partners as their relationship evolves. They also cite commitment among their five issues of concern—a topic I address at length in Chapter VI.

It’s not enough to assume love will conquer all simply because we feel love in our heart for someone. We have to show we appreciate one another through our words and our actions. This can be a tough lesson to learn and partially explains why good partners slip away despite everything we feel we’ve done right in our relationship. The concept is simple, yet so easy to get wrong.

We all have a need to feel appreciated and wanted. Over several years I’ve dated women who lack the core value of appreciation. Despite all their positive qualities, they reciprocated my kindness and generosity with all the honesty and respect of a rock—a paradox worthy of further consideration but beyond the scope of this book. More importantly, those negative experiences reinforced for me, the tremendous value of appreciation. When we lose appreciation for the kindhearted, genuine, attractive individuals in our lives, we fail ourselves and our romantic relationships by not acknowledging the value of the person in our lives. As the French philosopher, Voltaire, proclaimed, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

We owe it to our partners to not only appreciate their presence in our lives, but to demonstrate our appreciation at recurring intervals. Sometimes it’s not enough to say, “I love you.” Show your partner how much you love him or her through good deeds and selfless acts. Become an active listener. Learn to empathize. Identify the priorities in your life and make sure your romantic relationship stays near the top of the list where it belongs.

Some key points to remember about the core value of appreciation:

  1. Appreciation is a cornerstone of romance.
  • If you can’t appreciate what you have in your romantic relationship, it might be time to reevaluate your needs and desires.
  • Appreciation doesn’t come with a price tag, so give generously.
  • Doubt and insecurity lurk in the absence of appreciation. When you fail to appreciate your partner, you erode the foundation of trust, respect, and honesty you’ve built over time.
  • It doesn’t take a genius intellect or a wild imagination to show appreciation; sometimes the smallest gestures echo loudest in the valley of true love.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness, the last core value I will mention in this book, defines a value many people struggle to incorporate in their day-to-day lives. Tolstoy said, “Let us forgive each other—only then will we live in peace.” Mark Twain quipped, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” And in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

Forgiveness can’t be something we choose from time to time. Selective forgiveness, in my opinion, doesn’t work. Furthermore, in forgiveness lies hope. For without forgiveness, we are doomed to languish in our own despair.

Let’s face it, most of us at one time or another have endured bad relationships, whether they involved a short term fling we later regretted, a planned engagement that fell through, or like many couples, a marriage that ended badly. Forgiveness helps us leave the past behind and get on with our lives. A lot of personal factors determine our willingness to forgive, including our faith, our personality, lessons learned from our previous relationships, and our upbringing.

When a romantic relationship fails, the choice to forgive a wrongdoing inflicted by one partner on another may or may not save the relationship once the music stops for good. But small acts of forgiveness while a relationship remains healthy, or even when it’s in need of repair, can be tremendously beneficial.

Does your boyfriend or husband leave the toilet seat up? If yes, then tell him not to. If he persists, then explain your concerns with a more compelling approach. Assuming you get through to him and the toilet seat stays down, then give him some slack if he forgets on occasion. In other words, forgive the behavior. Resist the temptation to hold a grudge about it or to incite a hurtful argument. The same attitude applies to men. If your girlfriend or wife does something to irritate you—hypothetically speaking, of course, since women never do things to drive men crazy—calmly explain your position and help her understand why the behavior has a negative affect on you. When an occasional lapse in judgment ensues, forgive the behavior and move on. Often, the little stuff evolves into bigger problems if ignored. But don’t confuse forgiveness with complacency or appeasement. If something bothers you, speak up! And if you find yourself in the position of having to forgive someone’s constant indiscretions, then perhaps your partner’s core values don’t align with yours. In addition, there’s a good chance certain high priority relationship needs are not being met.

If your girlfriend forgot to set the DVR to Sports Channel, forgive her. If your boyfriend forgot to call you at work, forgive him. If your wife forgot to grab your favorite beer at the store, forgive her. If your husband forgot your anniversary, again—well…it was nice knowing him.

Some key points to remember about the core value of forgiveness:

  1. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily imply reconciliation.
  • Forgive the little things to help your romantic relationship grow.
  • Better to forgive and carry on with a conscience in good faith than carry the crushing weight of a grudge.

Core Values in Summary

The core values of trust, respect, honesty, reassurance, humor, independence, accountability, self discipline, appreciation, and forgiveness provide the foundation upon which we build a meaningful and lasting romance. These core values as I’ve defined them are not meant to be all-encompassing, but rather, a comprehensive list of essential principles from which to better ourselves and our romantic relationships. These universal standards are important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think about the values you champion and those you could improve upon. No one is perfect. People excel more in some areas than in others. Strive for balance as you grow and learn—not perfection.

With a better understanding of our core values and the role they play in helping us foster a meaningful and lasting romance, we can shift our focus to understanding the distinction between our needs and our desires. Why are these important, and how do they ultimately relate to the 4Cs? The answer is simple, and in many ways, applies to every one of us.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 1.2

Reassurance

Whether we choose to admit it or not, most of us routinely seek some form of reassurance from an important individual in our lives. Perhaps from our parents for trying to live up to their expectations; from our children for trying to be the best role models we can be; from our friends for acknowledging their significance in our lives; from our boss for acknowledging a job well done; and especially, from our romantic partners.

Reassurance, by definition, provides an action to remove our doubts and fears. The need to feel wanted and appreciated comes naturally. No one seeks to feel unwanted or abandoned. And certainly no one enjoys rejection or being taken for granted.

We all require different levels of reassurance. Some more than others. On one end of the spectrum we find those who require little more than a pat on the back or a simple “thanks.” On the other end, some people crave constant reassurance to the point where we label them “needy” or “clingy.”

Men tend to run from women who come across as emotionally needy; although, women are not immune from exhibiting the same behavior toward needy men whom they consider desperate. There are degrees of needy, and men out of touch with their own emotions can be quick to label a woman who requires regular open, honest communication as needy.

Somewhere a balance exists, for both men and women, between the requirement for too much or too little reassurance. How we define too much or too little depends on the individual person and their particular needs. Finding the perfect balance can be tricky at times, but siding with one extreme or the other never bodes well for couples trying to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. As with many aspects of our romantic relationships, and in particular with trying to understand our own core values, we should strive for reassurance within ourselves and not become completely dependent on our partners.

Why does reassurance hold such importance? Because it demonstrates caring, compassion, and commitment to one another. Reassurance affirms our belief in one another. It validates our feelings for one another in a positive way. Reassurance also plays an integral role in maintaining open, honest communication. Without it, the person who no longer receives reassurance starts to feel unwanted, unappreciated, or ignored. Reassurance also provides a powerful tool for building trust; for reminding our partner they feel loved; and for maintaining respect. Reassurance also boosts our self-esteem, defined by the integration of self-confidence and self-respect, and plays an important role in maintaining romance and intimacy in a relationship. Reassurance expands our ability to love and be loved.

Verbal reassurance doesn’t have to be profound or poetic. And it doesn’t have to be lengthy. It simply has to be honest and sincere. The level and specific content of verbal reassurance varies appropriately with the stage of our relationship. If someone craves our verbal reassurance after a first date, it might be a sign of insecurity and some unresolved issues. On the other hand, a woman seeking verbal reassurance after several dates, might be trying to ascertain her standing in the early stages of a new relationship (e.g., Am I his only girlfriend or one of many in his stable of female acquaintances?).

For men who fit the model of the strong and silent type, a warm smile, a gentle hug, a soft kiss, or a note on the nightstand exemplify ways to express reassurance. Men enjoy kissing, but for women, the kiss holds greater value; a form of nonverbal reassurance that requires a higher degree of trust and comfort than say a warm hug or a walk on the beach together. In some ways for women, the kiss represents a litmus test of a man’s affection. Men often interpret a kiss as a prelude to sex. Whereas men expect to see clothes shed post-haste, women crave the sense of closeness and belonging a kiss provides, without necessarily involving sex. Show me a man who believes he can fake sincerity in a halfhearted kiss with his girlfriend or wife, and I’ll show you a man with delusional tendencies. Sooner or later, and chances are much sooner than later, the woman will pick up on the signal like a bright orange flare. By which point the only thing more certain than the man’s delusional state of mind is his partner’s decision to move on.

Regardless of your position on reassurance, we all require some measure of reassurance to sustain a healthy romantic relationship. When in doubt about your partner’s need for reassurance, simply ask.

Some key points to remember about the core value of reassurance:

  1. Reassurance should be reciprocal.
  • Reassurance can be verbal, nonverbal, or both.
  • Everyone craves some form of reassurance on different levels; some of us more frequently than others.
  • Open, honest communication plays an integral role in our efforts to provide reassurance.

Humor

“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.” —Robin Williams

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” —Woody Allen

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” —Steven Wright

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” —George Carlin

“The next time you buy a new mattress, tell the salesperson you’re haggling with, ‘I don’t know…I’ll have to sleep on it.’” —Jason Melby

Humor represents one of our most important core values. How many people do you know who don’t enjoy laughing? If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in a while, we’re taking life too seriously. Often, we spend our time in a futile effort to make sense of things beyond our control. The weather, for instance, always is what it is. We can love the day’s forecast, or we can hate it. But there’s not much we can do to change it. The same goes for those wacky relatives who drive us crazy, though I’m fortunate not to have any of those in my family tree. Maybe it’s your ex who won’t let go or your boss who’s always on your case. A problem child with a mind of their own or just a bad hair day. Life is unpredictable. Change is inevitable. For some of us, a pint of Häagen-Dazs can heal fresh wounds. Others find comfort at their favorite martini bar or from a riveting novel. But sometimes, when you’re dangling from the last fiber at the end of a badly worn rope, all you can do is laugh.

Laughter builds an instant social bond between two people, and unlike the price of gas, laughter won’t set you back sixty bucks to fill your tank with high spirits and positive vibes that come with acknowledging the humorous side of life.

Humor has a tendency to sneak up on us in ways we least expect. Case in point: several years ago I went through a divorce. At that time, my wife and I knew it was the right thing to do. Although a difficult but necessary decision, my divorce impacted me less as a husband losing a wife and more as a father losing time with his sons. Though my wife and I agreed to share joint custody, the separation of households meant my boys would only be with me half time. As a father who loves his children more than life itself, the prospect of losing time with them brought an emotional pain the likes of which I’d never felt before. But more than my sadness of losing time with my six-year-old sons, came a sense of overwhelming concern about the potentially negative affects the divorce would have on them.

One night, when I was tucking my boys in bed, I noticed one son seemed restless and sort of melancholy. Not knowing what was wrong, I tried to ask him but heard no reply as he started to rock himself to sleep. At that moment, I felt terrible and proceeded to reassure him that despite the change in routine brought on by the divorce, I would always love him. And I would always be there for him.

Motivated by my assumption that his moment of sadness stemmed from the impact of divorce, I proceeded with my monologue of reassurance, hoping my words of love and encouragement were getting through to my son and his twin brother, who listened intently from the bunk above. After a minute or so, I stopped talking and said a final “good night.” Before I could stand up, my son rolled on his side to look at me, his face a portrait of concentration as he pondered what I’d said—or so I thought at that moment in time—and asked, “Can you show me how to fart with my armpit?”

A moment earlier, I wanted to cry. Now it was all I could do not to bust out laughing. I’m not making light of my divorce or the impact it had on my family. I’m simply illustrating one of many examples where a little humor can help put things in perspective.

Another quick aside…this one more relevant to the topic at hand as it involves a first date fiasco. After exchanging sideways glances with one another for the better part of six months during several school functions our children attended, I decided to ask a female acquaintance out for dinner. After all, we were casual friends who shared some common interests beyond our roles as single parents. I also found her attractive with a wonderful personality and a nice sense of humor.

I planned our date for dinner at a low key restaurant near the beach, which turned out to be the only thing that went right on this casual rendezvous.

After leaving work later than I’d planned, I got stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for the southbound CSX locomotive to plod its way through Melbourne. At home, I hustled through my shower, shave, and change of clothes. As luck would have it, I managed to cut myself shaving, an event I rarely encounter, slammed my elbow on the bathroom pocket door hard enough to ignite the not so funny bone, and discovered a once tiny pimple on my chin now loomed like Mount Vesuvius.

With little time to spare, I settled my nerves with a few deep breaths and calmly put everything in perspective. My pimple less threatening than it first appeared, I grabbed a fresh shirt off the hanger and reached for my antiperspirant on the bathroom counter. Unfortunately, this particular deodorant stick was one I’d had for some time. With barely a penny’s width of product still left in the twist applicator, I applied what I could from the only antiperspirant in my possession and experienced the coup de grâce. For instead of applying smoothly, the deodorant crumbled into pieces and scattered on my bathroom rug. Already ten minutes late, I got on my hands and knees to pluck what I could salvage from the carpet.

Fast forward to dinner at a favorite local hangout with a woman who seemed more interested in the casual decor than she did in me. After half an hour of good food and somewhat stilted conversation, I found myself in a quandary and decided to inject a little humor with a quick recount of events leading up to our first date encounter. As dinner came to a close, along with any expectation of a second date, I told her the story about my deodorant shenanigans. With my palms face out, I said, “At least my hands smell good.” I got a good laugh out of it—right up until the end of the evening when my over-priced, pre-owned luxury lemon broke down at a stop sign on the way to drop her home.

If you think about it, there are times when we all experience less than stellar moments in our romantic relationships. One minute we’re happy, and the next we’re sad. One minute we’re embroiled in a heated argument of apocalyptic proportion and the next we’re laughing about our own hypocrisy. Sometimes a little perspective helps remind us of the most important things in life. And the importance of humor should never be overlooked in our romantic relationships. The ability to laugh maintains our sanity in our increasingly fast-paced, over-stressed world. Much like words of reassurance, a little levity goes a long way. Not to say an addiction to laughing would necessarily be a bad thing; although, it might give the wrong impression by implying we’re inebriated, high, or emotionally imbalanced. Oddly, I’ve dated women who exhibit all three traits. Sometimes on the same night.

Humor is often what we make of it. It’s also no secret women love a man who can make them laugh. And vice versa. If John Candy were alive today, I’d date him. Okay, that’s a stretch, but my point is men enjoy women with a great sense of humor as much as women seek men who can make them laugh.

Think of humor as the universal call of the wild. People love to laugh. And for good reason. Studies show laughter can reduce pain, strengthen our immune system, and lessen our everyday stress levels. Studies also indicate laughter plays a positive role in our romantic relationships, where couples appreciate each other’s humor. Or as someone once said, “People with a good sense of humor have a better sense of life.”

Some key points to remember about the core value of humor:

  1. When all else fails, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
  • Laugh with your partner not at him.
  • A sense of humor will help sustain you through the rough times and make the good times even better.
  • You don’t have to be a comedian to appreciate the funny side of life.
  • People who laugh more, live more.

Independence

Healthy romantic relationships involve commitment from both partners who presumably enjoy each other’s company. Obviously, spending time with one another, learning, growing, and experiencing life as a couple, supports a fulfilling relationship. Yet despite the common interests we share and the desire to spend time together, we must also acknowledge our need for independence. Independence creates a sense of security. It helps us balance our desire to be in a relationship versus our need to be in one, concepts I discuss at length in Chapter II.

What does independence mean to each of us in our romantic relationships? For some, it means time alone to read, listen to music, or reflect upon our thoughts in solitude. For others, it involves a shopping spree with girlfriends or enjoying a guys’ fishing weekend. Independence does not necessarily imply solitude, so much as time away from our relationship, which begs the question: how can we maintain our independence and still be in a serious relationship when these choices appear contradictory? We can have one without the other, but we can’t remain independent and attached to a meaningful romance at the same time. Or can we?

To answer this question for yourself, reflect on your own need for independence. Some of us are fiercely independent; others not so much. I cook, clean, and do my own laundry. I pay my bills on time. I care for my children when they’re in my custody. So by all accounts, I consider myself independent. That said, I enjoy a woman’s company. I also appreciate, respect, and enjoy the value of a meaningful and lasting romance. Like most things in life, I strive for a balance between my need for independence—which involves a lot of time to write, exercise, and enjoy a variety of hobbies—and my desire for a healthy relationship, which involves chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. For me, the need for independence and togetherness fit less of a mutually exclusive model and more of a Yin/Yang paradigm where the two halves intertwine. I prefer regular, consistent time alone in modest doses rather than long bouts of solitude away from my partner. I also try to communicate this up front. My need to spend time alone doesn’t mean I don’t value my romantic relationship. On the contrary, my time alone helps me recharge my senses, clear my head, and maintain a positive perspective on life—all of which helps make me a better person, a better friend, and a better partner overall.

I encourage you to look inward and ask yourself how you define your independence. What are some things you need time to do for yourself? And when? And how often? There are no right or wrong answers here, only truth. Strive for a balance in your romantic relationship. Whether you’re inclined to need more or less independence, make sure you communicate this need to your partner.

For those of us who require lots of independence, be careful about spending too little time with your partner. People who make themselves unavailable physically and/or emotionally, risk serious, and sometimes irreparable harm to their relationship. A meaningful and lasting romance implies physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual togetherness—not two people leading completely separate lives. Then again, some people in healthy romantic relationships prefer lots of time apart because for them it simply works.

The polar opposites of those who require lots of independence, are those who require almost none. Those without a sense of independence crave constant reassurance. In my experience, individuals who lack a sense of independence have not learned how to enjoy spending time alone. They also tend to expend energy doing things to please other people instead of trying to please themselves.

According to a February 2011 USA Today article, which cited a national survey of more than five thousand single men and women across age groups from twenty-one to over sixty-five, women want more independence than men in their relationships. According to the national survey, touted as the largest and most comprehensive study of single adults to date, seventy-seven percent of women stated having their personal space was “very important” compared to fifty-eight percent for men. I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons behind these figures, but it’s interesting to note how the women in this survey appear to crave their independence more than men. Perhaps women tend to socialize more than men with visits to their favorite spa, shopping destinations, nail salons, or just hanging out on the beach with friends. Apparently, modern men require less independence. Or perhaps guys simply need to find more things to do.

Independence doesn’t exclusively apply to a physical separation of partners. In other words, you can still spend time together and maintain some independence at the same time. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and express your thoughts or concerns. You are who you are, a unique individual capable of making your own decisions and enjoying your own interests, whether or not they coincide with your partner’s. If you don’t like red meat, don’t let your partner convince you to eat it. If you don’t like horror movies, speak up and suggest an alternative. Perhaps your definition of independence includes pumping your own gas, carrying your own groceries to the car, making your own decisions about when and where to eat out. Regardless of how you define your need for independence, make it clear, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes there’s a fine line between independent and stubborn—or independent and confrontational. Having everything your way all the time won’t work well either.

Some key points to remember about the core value of independence include:

  1. Look inward and define your own need for independence. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, you may jeopardize the success of your existing or future romantic relationships.
  • Strive for a balance between together time and time alone. Recognize that your need for independence might vary.
  • There will always be activities you enjoy sharing with your partner and those you prefer to enjoy alone. Embrace your differences; don’t reject them.
  • In a budding romantic relationship, communicate your expectations early on. If your expectations are grossly out of line with your partner’s—e.g., one of you requires significantly more alone time than the other—then you might have an issue to address.
  • Don’t give up your independence. Be yourself. Hold onto the things you believe in and the ideals you value in your life.

Accountability

With everything we do in life, we are accountable to someone; to the bank that holds our car note; to our boss at work; to our children who look to us for guidance and support; to our friends, our family, and our significant others; to ourselves; and for some of us, to God. But what does accountability really mean? For starters, it begins with honesty. Accountability is closely coupled with the trust people place in us. Accountability also means learning to say we’re sorry and taking responsibility for our actions; learning to accept the blame when our deeds cause harm to others.

The law holds us accountable if we defy the formal statutes governing acceptable behavior in our society. Employers hold us accountable for our productivity and our behavior in the work place. Our romantic partners hold us accountable for our words and actions in our relationships. But what about ourselves? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions? Absolutely!

Then why is it so easy to be accountable in various facets of our lives and then jettison this notion the instant we’re in a romantic relationship that doesn’t work? I’m talking about guys who say they’ll call and then never do. I’m also talking about women who argue they are tired of the dating games while they continue to perpetuate the same dating games themselves.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” In other words, it’s always easy to blame others for mistakes—and hard to look inward, to self-reflect on our own bad habits and occasionally inappropriate behaviors. I’m not proposing everyone should overanalyze every relationship they’ve ever been in, but I feel it’s important to understand where we’ve been before we forge ahead and try to figure out where we’re going. Only after we’ve spent time reflecting on our virtues and our flaws, can we begin to apply these lessons learned to our romantic relationships.

Accountability makes us vulnerable by exposing our flaws and forcing us to see things for what they really are. In the words of the late Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “He who gains a victory over other men is strong; but he who gains a victory over himself is all-powerful.” We gain victory over ourselves by being accountable for our actions.

If you’re serious about wanting to engage in a meaningful and lasting romance, or if you’re already involved in one, be open and honest. Don’t step out on your responsibilities. Step up and do the right thing. Look inward and identify the things that bother you or cause discomfort in your relationship. If you’re lucky enough to be perfectly happy twenty-four-seven and content with every aspect of your life, I applaud you. For those of us who live in the real world, it’s never a bad idea to examine ourselves and make small course corrections, especially if we’re not content with certain aspects of our lives. Or as Joyce Meyer lectures, “You can suffer the pain of change or suffer remaining the way you are.” Change isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ditto for accountability, which can, at times, force us to modify our behavior patterns and come to terms with our shortcomings.

Some key points to remember about the core value of accountability:

  1. Be cognizant of the way you treat people.
  • If you don’t like what you see inside yourself, work to make a change for the better.
  • Accountability should be something we strive for, not something we hide from.
  • It’s better to become accountable than pass the blame.
  • Accountability allows for positive change in ourselves and in our romantic relationships.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 1.1

Before we delve into the 4Cs, let’s take a moment to review some core values required to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. Specific core values and their significance will vary slightly from person to person, as no two people are exactly alike. But the core values I present in this chapter describe an essential set of values most people share in common.

Think of a house, where the 4Cs represent four sturdy walls with a roof built to hurricane specifications. The protection the house affords is only as good as the strength of the walls and roof, assuming the structure was built on a solid foundation. But what if the foundation were faulty from weak concrete or a massive sink hole waiting to collapse? No matter how strong the walls and roof, the weak foundation would jeopardize the entire structure. Perhaps not an immediate threat, but one destined to occur as the weight of our shelter, and the forces imposed upon it, continue to bear down.

Now step outside this metaphorical box for a moment and imagine how the same logic might apply to a romantic relationship built upon a flimsy foundation or perhaps no foundation at all. Often, the absence of core values, or a lack of commitment to them, prevents us from building a romantic relationship on solid ground.

This chapter defines ten core values and their significance to a meaningful and lasting romance. The following common sense values represent basic morals we should strive to achieve for ourselves and our romantic relationships:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Reassurance
  • Humor
  • Independence
  • Accountability
  • Self discipline
  • Appreciation
  • Forgiveness

Trust

Without exception, trust signifies the most important core value. Without trust, we have nothing. Trust speaks to the essence of who we are and how we interact with one another on a daily basis. Trust determines how far we are willing to extend ourselves to others. Trust within ourselves also feeds our self-esteem.

Different levels of trust persist throughout our lives. Would you trust a stranger you just met at a bar? Or someone you bumped into at the library? How about a friend of a friend you met at the grocery store? Do you know many people you would trust with your life? Do you trust your boyfriend? Your girlfriend? Your spouse?

Any relationship, romantic or not, will eventually dissolve without trust. Trust exists not only as a sort of virtual adhesive to bind us together, but as a living umbilical cord of sorts, exchanging emotional nutrients between individuals in a meaningful and lasting romance. Trust can’t be bought or bartered. It must be earned.

Growing up, we are taught to trust adults in uniform (police officers, firefighters, doctors, etc.). We are also taught to never trust strangers. But as we grow older and wiser about the realities of life, we quickly develop our own notions of whom we feel we can trust and how far we are willing to extend our trust to those with honorable qualities. For the most part, we build trust through reliability and authenticity. Trust also implies we meet our commitments, uphold our promises, and hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. Robert E. Lee said, “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Ronald Reagan’s philosophy involved, “Trust, but verify.” And Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”

For many of us, trust remains a pervasive topic in our daily lives. Think about your own view on trust for a moment and the levels of trust you extend to various people in your life.

Do you trust yourself in challenging situations at work?

Do you trust the news?

Do you trust your government?

Do you trust your hairdresser?

Do you trust your mechanic?

Do you trust your bank?

Do you trust your child’s teacher?

Do you trust the stock market?

Do you trust your spouse?

Do you trust in God?

When we apply the concept of trust to romantic relationships, we impose a variable degree of trust in the opposite sex. I call this our trust continuum. At one extreme of this continuum we take the position of trusting no one. Ever. To the point where our lack of trust impacts our ability to communicate effectively. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we trust everyone we meet, doling out our name and number with a wink that says, “Call me anytime.” Neither extreme on our trust continuum is ideal. For most of us, the position along our own trust continuum lies somewhere in the middle, perhaps slightly skewed toward one end or the other.

The position along a given trust continuum can vary from person to person, as well as from one circumstance to another. A morning meet-and-greet for coffee with a new romantic interest requires a low degree of trust, where the worst thing that could happen is your date never shows. Contrast this scenario to a first date with a man who picks you up at your house and takes you to dinner in his car. Perhaps you met him online and enjoyed a few friendly conversations or text messages. You might even know his last name and have already run it through the registered sex offenders list or vetted it through an online background check—none of which tells you much about this person’s level of trustworthiness—just whether or not they’ve been caught. In the end, the onus falls on you to decide the level of trust you’re willing to extend or not.

Some people are more trusting than others. For many, trust takes longer to earn, especially for those who’ve been hurt too many times before. Once trust is broken, it can be very hard to get it back. An obvious statement, perhaps, but one often unappreciated. Fortunately, trust can be earned over time through open and honest communication, a topic addressed at length in Chapter IV. For now, let’s review some key points about the core value of trust:

  1. Trust your own instincts. They’re almost always right.
  • If you trust your partner, don’t waffle from one extreme to the other along your trust continuum. If you trust your partner more one minute and less the next, you’ll send mixed signals.
  • Recognize that some people incur more emotional scars than others from past relationships, and thus, their willingness to trust may not be on par with yours. Be patient with trust issues. For some folks, it takes longer than others to build trust in a new relationship.
  • Be careful with people who trust too willingly. Tread lightly with their emotions and don’t mistake their generous demeanor for someone who hasn’t been hurt before. Sometimes still waters run deep.
  • If you feel like you can’t trust someone because your intuition keeps telling you there’s something off about him or her, then move on. It’s a big world out there and just a matter of time before you cross paths with someone more compatible.
  • Don’t let one bad experience destroy your trust in the opposite sex. Confrontations with untrustworthy people might slide us toward the ultra-conservative end of our trust continuum, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to trust again—or falsely assume all members of the opposite sex are untrustworthy.
  • Remember, trust goes both ways. If you want people to trust you, you have to trust yourself and exhibit the essential qualities of a trustworthy person—honesty, integrity, compassion, and decisiveness, to name a few.

Respect

Albert Einstein said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

Although I lack Einstein’s intellectual capacity by a huge margin, I share his philosophy on respect. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the importance of respect, which goes hand in hand with trust. You wouldn’t trust someone you don’t respect. And you wouldn’t respect someone you don’t trust. This applies to ourselves as well as our relationships, where the concept of mutual respect plays an integral part in a healthy romantic relationship.

In many ways, respect, like trust, is earned. How you verbally communicate, how you dress, and how you conduct yourself in public as well as private situations, and especially how you treat others, will conspire to help you gain or lose respect. If you view yourself in an optimistic light and treat others in a manner you wish others to treat you, respect will follow.

In a healthy romantic relationship, we give and receive respect. We give respect as a result of truthful actions conducted by others. We receive respect as a result of our own trustworthy actions applied toward others. Each of us has a need to feel valued and encouraged. While this level of need will vary from person to person, we all share a need for respect. Often, we fill this need through words of encouragement, setting boundaries of acceptable behavior, and keeping our promises. Anyone who’s ever been stood up on a date, particularly a first date, can relate to how easy it is to lose respect for someone. The same goes for a promised phone call that never happens.

If you find you can’t respect someone, then they aren’t the right person for you. If someone doesn’t respect you for who you are as an individual with your own needs, desires, hopes, and dreams, then move on. Respect holds tremendous value in intimate relations, where many of us feel emotionally vulnerable. We don’t have to agree with every one of our partner’s opinions or beliefs, but we should be willing to respect them. People seldom see eye to eye on every issue in their relationship, and that’s okay as long as both partners share a mutual respect for one another and their relationship. Respect not only helps establish a more personal connection, it also helps build a longer-term relationship. As author William Ury wrote, “Respect is the key that opens the door to the other’s mind and heart.”

Some key points to remember about the core value of respect:

  1. In the words of Confucius, “Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
  • Respect is earned.
  • If we lose respect in our partner’s eyes, we might not get it back.
  • We should share our opinions but not impose them.
  • Respect for our partner’s differences and personal boundaries goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.
  • Those who give respect tend to get respect in return.
  • Respect builds trust.

Honesty

When I think of trust, respect, and honesty, I think about the charismatic Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior and his unwavering commitment to black civil rights. A leader revered by millions, Dr. King once proclaimed, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Growing up, we’re taught the difference between right and wrong. For the most part, our parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and other authority figures promoted the basic concept of right and wrong. To steal is bad. To love is good. To lie is bad. To tell the truth is good. To misbehave is bad. To be polite and respect your elders is good.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way as we get older, things start to get a little fuzzy. We still maintain the distinction between right and wrong, but we start to exercise “white lies” or “half truths” more often. Unlike blatant lies, the white lies don’t hold the same stigma. We hear a few. We tell a few. Sooner than later, we convince ourselves a little white lie is not such a big deal. After all, everyone does it. You tell your friends you don’t want to go out because you’re too tired when in reality you simply aren’t in the mood. Rather than tell the truth, you sell a story. Your boyfriend asks if you like his new shirt, and you tell him it’s nice. In reality, it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen and you’re embarrassed to step out with him in public.

At times, there’s a fine line between lying and withholding information, the former implying a blatant falsehood with the latter omitting certain details without overt dishonesty. Maybe you’re too tired to go out, but instead of voicing your opinion on the matter, you dodge the subject altogether and pretend to ignore the discussion by delving into another text message. In the new shirt example, an alternative response might include, “I’m glad you found something you liked.” Your answer remains sincere and honest, while the underlying truth you feel about the shirt remains hidden. Many times, we find these half truth examples benign. After all, we aren’t hurting anyone’s feelings, and we tell ourselves we’re simply making the decision not to share more information than required. We aren’t lying, we just aren’t revealing the big picture.

In our relationships, small white lies, and at times even the perception of a trite falsehood, can generate negative feelings over time. Any lie, small or not, tends to snowball. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” There’s a lot of truth to that statement, no pun intended. The truth can be awkward and uncomfortable at times, but it forms the bedrock of any lasting romantic relationship. Obviously, blatant lies have no place in a relationship, but white lies can be detrimental as well. There will always be circumstances when we would rather withhold our sincere opinion than risk hurting someone’s feelings. In these situations, a little tact goes a long way.

***

Guys, your girlfriend doesn’t have a weight problem. She has a healthy figure. Her dress doesn’t make her look plump. It accentuates her curves. Note the fine line between lying and sharing an alternative viewpoint.

***

Honesty should always be something we strive for in our relationships, not something we shy away from. As with trust and respect, honesty should start with ourselves. Be honest about your feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions. Is he really the right one for me, or am I just feeling lonely? Am I with her because I like her for the wonderful woman she is and all the genuine qualities she owns, or because I’m hoping to get lucky tonight?

Are you in your relationship because you want to share your time with someone special or because you’re simply trying to fill a void in your life with the first person who comes along?

Young children tend to be the most honest people of all. Their innocence untainted by faulty gestures from adults with poor judgment and ulterior motives, children see people for who they are—good, bad, or indifferent, which brings a funny story to mind.

Several years back when my twin boys were about three years old, their mother and I liked to take them to the beach and collect sea shells. One particularly gorgeous Florida morning, we strolled past a crusty old fisherman with his Styrofoam drink cooler and a pair of Cabela’s fishing rods cast to the Atlantic—a typical scene we’d observed many times before, except this time, the tattooed fisherman had one good leg and one joined above the ankle to an antiquated prosthesis shaped like a pogo stick. Our twin boys, barely taller than the man’s knee, took notice immediately and walked up to the gruff-looking stranger. Dressed in identical clothes and shoes, our boys stood side-by-side, almost hand-in-hand as they were prone to do at that age. Their mother looked at me with a glint of apprehension in her eyes, her anxiety mirrored in my expression while both of us anticipated the candid comment our sons would utter to the salty fisherman with a stick for a leg.

When the man turned around, our boys stared at him unflinching and bent their heads sideways in unison like a pair of Muppets controlled by a puppeteer, captivated by the prosthetic device. Neither boy mumbled a word, opting instead to smile at the man’s irregularity before staring up at the stranger who looked down at them and said, “Pretty neat, huh?”

Our boys nodded simultaneously and kept walking. Their honest reaction from a natural curiosity spoke volumes to the kind-hearted man who acknowledged their bewilderment with an honest reply of his own. My point is, honesty should be the default setting. Unfortunately, for many of us, deceitful acts propagated by former partners with low self-esteem or a specious moral compass can tempt us to avoid honest communication. But if you want to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance, you have to fight the temptation to skew the truth and be honest with yourself and your partner. And while honesty can be uncomfortable at times, it creates a healthy environment necessary for a romantic relationship to grow. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Make honesty your California redwood—a deeply-rooted, unshakeable evergreen others look up to in awe.

Some key points to remember about the core value of honesty:

  1. Not only is honesty the best policy, it should be the only policy.
  • Pretending to be truthful while dispensing white lies is like saying you’re a little pregnant.
  • Better to face the truth and live with the consequences than perpetuate dishonesty in your romantic relationship.
  • Honesty represents the yardstick from which we measure our integrity.
  • If you can’t be honest with yourself, you won’t be honest in your romantic relationship.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Introduction

Emotions

May thoughts await in dreams untold

Along a stretch of lonely road

A barefoot stroll on powdered sand

Side by side, hand in hand

While stars align in open sky

And spirits soar where angels fly

As sunlight shines from heaven’s gate

To warm the hearts of those who wait

On whispers in a mild breeze

Or gentle stir of autumn leaves

For what was lost can now be found

When love and happiness abound

—J.M.

Introduction

After more than eighteen years of writing suspense novels, what on earth compelled me to write a book about romance?

The easy answer derives from the positive feedback I received with my June 29, 2011 eZine’s article, The Four ‘Cs’ to a Meaningful and Lasting Romance. Encouraged by a receptive audience, I decided to expand upon my initial concept and amplify my thoughts on romantic relationships. The more complicated answer stems from my need to understand why intelligent, attractive, and caring individuals entangle themselves with the wrong romantic partners while more compatible ones slip away.

Since the Gutenberg era, famous poets, playwrights, and illustrious authors have penned countless words on love and romance. In contemporary times, psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage counselors, therapists, ministers, and motivational speakers alike, have written volumes on relationship issues. Numerous authors, many of whom I reference in this book, provide valuable insight on romantic relationships from a sharp academic focus; some through a more anecdotal lens. Other authors steep themselves in psychobabble or promote ideas void of substance, promulgating the same song, different verse to either knowingly or unwittingly evade the answer to the question, “What does it take to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance?”

After almost ten years of marriage and nearly twice as many years in the dating pool, I’ve often asked myself why a flourishing romantic relationship should end without considering that perhaps it never really began. As a systems engineer for almost two decades of my adult life, I’ve learned to apply logic, reason, and common sense to a range of complex problems. As an author and a hopeless romantic, I’ve learned the answer to my question on romance exists somewhere between logic and emotion. Certainly romance can, and often does, persist without reason or logic, but I propose the absence of rational thinking and objectivity diminishes a romantic relationship’s capacity for meaning and longevity. Sometimes we focus too objectively on love and the pursuit of happiness with someone we covet, only later to discover a more subjective definition of our own happiness and how we define our personal needs and desires. When everything clicks, love is grand. When it doesn’t, we’re often stuck in a parody of thermodynamic law, where:

  1. You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You can’t get out of the game

Bruce Lee, the legendary martial artist, philosophy student, and author of Tao of Jeet Kune Do, wrote, “Relationship is understanding. It is a process of self-revelation. Relationship is the mirror in which you discover yourself—to be is to be related.”

Lee’s notion of understanding and self-revelation goes deeper than the pages of a manual on fighting techniques and strategy. His words speak to the essence of relationships and how we must first examine ourselves to understand who we are as individuals before we strive to understand who we are as one half of a desirable union. In line with Lee’s philosophy, a T’ai Chi instructor I learned from years ago sternly proffered the following advice: “See things for what they are; not for what you want them to be.”

At barely twenty years old, I acknowledged my instructor’s counsel within a sparring context, more applicable to the way one might attack or defend rather than how to approach a romantic relationship. Over the years, my instructor’s words took on a different meaning, one more applicable to me in a broader sense, beyond the scope of how to manage an opponent.

As adults engaged in life and love, we can want what we want, but in the end, we often get what we get, which sort of speaks to the concept behind the adage life’s not always fair. The notion of learning to see things for what they are and not for what we want them to be is important to understand. Often, we see what we want to see—in ourselves and in other individuals we attempt to engage in romantic relationships with—only to ignore the way things really are. Good or bad.

Socrates said, “Know thyself.” A simple truth, perhaps, but one often overlooked when we pursue a romantic relationship. In other words, if we don’t take a good look at ourselves and try to understand who we are as individuals with personal needs and desires, then how can we hope to successfully navigate a meaningful and lasting romance? Or to put it another way, if you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you find it?

Learning to see things for what they are and not for what you want them to be doesn’t mean you have to like the way things are. It means accepting the way things are in your real life world and not living in a cloud of false perception—an important philosophy for building any successful relationship, especially a romantic relationship forged by reason and passion. To articulate the significance of this concept, I devote the initial chapters of this book to defining what I call our core values and the distinction between our needs and our desires. These introductory chapters provide a common foundation upon which our romantic relationships should be built. A deeper understanding of our core values, needs, and desires also satisfies a prerequisite to defining the 4Cs and their pivotal role in a meaningful and lasting romance. My former eZine’s paper drew an apt analogy between the 4Cs I explore in later chapters of this book and the 4Cs used to measure a diamond’s worth. Stay with me for a moment, and I’ll illustrate an intriguing comparison between the two.

Diamonds have been called a girl’s best friend—a consistent theme for generations of single and married women captivated by these brilliant gemstones. To accentuate the allure of diamond jewelry requires a proportionate combination of color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. Color and carat weight define prominent features of any diamond, but no woman dreams of a large yellow stone or a colorless rock the size of a gnat’s head. This explains why we introduce a superior cut and clarity to enhance a diamond’s quality, and in turn, its value in the marketplace. A large, nearly colorless and perfectly cut diamond with little to no imperfections will dazzle you with its brilliant shimmer. The challenge is not to measure well in just one, two, or three aspects of a diamond’s quality, but to exemplify all four. Only the rarest of diamonds receive the moniker of perfection and command the highest price. The most prolific gems, however, strike a balance between color, cut, clarity, and carat weight.

Just as no two diamonds share exactly the same characteristics, no two romantic relationships are precisely alike. Obviously our romantic relationships are not defined by color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. But much like quality diamond jewelry, thriving romantic relationships signify love, romance, and commitment. Unlike diamonds, which take billions of years to form, our romantic relationships require significantly less time and effort to evolve. Moreover, we have the ability to enhance our romantic relationships by understanding and applying the 4Cs to a meaningful and lasting romance.

But before I introduce the 4Cs, let’s touch on meaningful and lasting for a moment. After all, what good is a lasting relationship if we find ourselves in limbo between happy and miserable? And what value does a meaningful relationship afford us if it fizzles in short order to leave us lonely and unfulfilled?

The concept of a lasting romance implies loyalty and dedication but doesn’t guarantee meaningful any more than a meaningful romance can guarantee longevity. Meaningful and lasting should not be mutually exclusive in our romantic relationships—but should complement one other.

After nearly a decade of marriage and more unsuccessful relationships than I care to admit; after years of candid dialogue with women I’ve befriended; after years of observing behaviors from both healthy and dysfunctional relationships; and through volumes of academic knowledge gleaned from credible research literature, I’ve identified the 4Cs associated with every meaningful and lasting romance—namely chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. At face value, they seem obvious. Yet so often we fail to recognize their existence or worse, choose to ignore them. Love persists in healthy romantic relationships, but at times, all 4Cs do not. Romantic love stirs the soul and sparks a passion between a man and woman, but a meaningful and lasting romance cannot endure without chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment.

This book will encourage you to explore your innermost needs and desires while also prompting you to ask yourself some tough questions. Though it’s written from a male perspective, I’ve done my best to respect and admire both gender viewpoints within heterosexual relationships. Although I feel that most, if not all, of the concepts explored in the following chapters apply equally as well to homosexual relationships, my lack of knowledge and understanding about the subtle nuances of homosexual couples confines my writing to romantic male-female relations exclusively.

We all exist as human beings with fundamental needs, desires, and capacities for love. Whether you are eighteen or eighty; whether you are currently involved in a long-term relationship or still hoping to find “the one,” this book will help you gain a better understanding of yourself and how to build and maintain a more fulfilling romantic relationship.

In the words of Deepak Chopra, “Relationships that begin in passion’s raging fire, often end in the coldest ashes.” I would add, romantic relationships bounded only by passion, in the absence of logic and reason, will not sustain. This underscores my philosophy on the 4Cs required to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance. For passion alone, in the absence of good communication skills, a willingness to compromise, and a need for commitment, cannot achieve a meaningful and lasting romance.

This book explores each of the 4Cs in more detail in an effort to address some longstanding, and often elusive questions, including:

  • What are core values, and why are they significant to a meaningful and lasting romantic relationship?
  • What are some fundamental needs and desires we all share in common, and why are these so important?
  • Why do some romantic relationships look so easy while others become the poster child for dysfunctional behavior?
  • Why do some romantic relationships begin with a flurry of passion and end abruptly, while others start slowly and diminish over time?
  • Are romance and sex mutually exclusive, and what does it take to shine in both?
  • How does new technology help and hinder our romantic relationships?
  • Is online dating just a digital meat market, or could our soulmates exist in cyberspace?
  • How can we handle some of the most daunting compromises romantic relationships face?
  • Why do we fear commitment, and what can we do to build commitment in our romantic relationships?

This book makes no claim to reveal all the secrets of a meaningful and lasting romance, but it does offer new insights on critical relationship needs, reminds you of ones you might have forgotten, and explores timely issues romantic couples often face. In many ways, experience remains the best teacher. And I truly feel my personal experiences with romantic relationships are not unique to me, but prevalent across a sizeable population of romantic couples.

What follows is not a lecture on romantic ideologies or a self-help guide cloaked in evangelistic tongue, but rather, a fresh, candid perspective on what it takes to make a romantic relationship work. When you reach the end of this book, you will have a better understanding of your personal needs and desires, a renewed sense of self, and the vigor to embrace a meaningful and lasting romance.

I hope you enjoy reading The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. I can’t promise this book will change your love life forever, but I believe, in many ways, the principles contained herein have made a positive and lasting impression on mine.

Screenplay: Without a Trace… Part 5

INT. SEA-NOTE, MAIN SALON – LATER

Steve stands with his hands in the air while Damon points the .357 at him.  Agent Riker hauls Leslie in the room.  Steve drops his arms and advances toward his wife.  He pulls the tape off her mouth.

Leslie embraces Steve.

                      LESLIE

          I thought you were dead.

Steve glares at Riker.  Veins surface along his neck and forehead.

                      STEVE

                (facing Damon)
          Where’s our daughter?

Riker removes her red wig to reveal her short, black hair.

                      AGENT RIKER

          She’s gone.

                      LESLIE

          Nooooo!

Leslie breaks away from Steve and fights her away toward Agent Riker.  Damon advances with the .357 revolver.

                      AGENT RIKER

          The fight is over.

                      STEVE

                (to Riker)

          I’ve not yet begun to fight!

                      AGENT RIKER

          I admire your tenacity – but as

far as the FBI or anyone else is

concerned, I’ve perished at sea.

Killed in the line of duty.

The victim of an unfortunate

boating accident that claimed

the lives of two Special Agents.

Agent Smythe tumbles down the stairs and lands in the main salon at Riker’s feet.  His face is badly swollen with blood seeping from a gash above his eye.  He looks at Riker in disgust.  Victor descends the STAIRS NEAR THE GALLEY.

                      AGENT RIKER

                (to Victor)

          Not the head.  I want the

teeth intact.

Smoke seeps into the cabin from the raging fire across the bow.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Fuck you.

Victor pumps the shotgun and fires a single blast at Smythe’s chest.  BOOM!  Red, pulpy tissue sprays the galley cabinets.

Riker wipes blood spatter off her shirt as Victor and Damon ASCEND THE STAIRS TO THE WHEELHOUSE.

                      STEVE

          You’re a disgrace to your job and

          your country.

                      AGENT RIKER

          I can live with that…and the ten

          million dollars I’ve made from

this little operation.

Riker nudges Steve and Leslie toward the back of the boat.

                 AGENT RIKER

          Keep moving.

Steve looks about the boat.  He coughs from the smoke.

                      STEVE

          Why us?

                      AGENT RIKER

          Bad Karma, I guess.  Wrong place,

          wrong time – that sort of thing.

                      STEVE

          I trusted you.

                (beat)

            AGENT RIKER

That’s touching.  Now get on

your knees.

Leslie turns to Steve with tears streaming down her eyes.   She whispers I love you.  Steve drops to his knees with his hands behind his head.  Riker stands behind him.

A small explosion rocks the boat, causing Riker to lose her balance.

Steve spins around and fights for control of her gun.  Two shots go off, hitting Riker in the stomach.  Riker crumbles to the floor.  Steve plants a knee in her chest.  He points the gun at her thigh.

                      STEVE

          Where’s my daughter?

Riker coughs up blood.  She shakes her head.

                      AGENT RIKER

          You won’t find her…

                (beat)

          Without me.

Steve shoots point blank.  Riker screams.

                      STEVE

          TELL ME!

Steve presses the hot muzzle to Riker’s forehead.  Smoke fills the cabin like a heavy fog.  Flames spread toward the galley.

                      LESLIE

                (to Steve)

          We have to get out of here!

                      STEVE

                (to Riker)

          Where is she!

Riker forces a smile before her eyes roll back in her head.  Leslie tugs on Steve’s arm.  A wall of fire blocks their topside exit.

Steve rips the sheets off a bed in the port side cabin and douses them in the cabin’s shower.  He drapes one over Leslie and one on himself.  They charge through the fire and leap from the burning yacht.  They hit the water as a massive explosion destroys the Sea-Note, hurling flaming debris in all directions.

EXT. PIER AT SAN MIGUEL – NIGHT

Soaking wet, Steve and Leslie step off a small fishing trawler.

Cruise ship passengers loiter about the docks as Steve and Leslie approach a visitor’s kiosk.  Steve spots Lieutenant Mierez running toward them with several officers.

                      STEVE

                (whispering to Leslie)

          This way!

Steve and Leslie traverse the crowded pier as police draw closer.

                      LESLIE

          What’s happening?

                      STEVE

          Keep moving.

A Jeep veers off the road and pulls in front of Steve and Leslie.  Ambrose leans out of the driver’s seat.

                      AMBROSE

          Get in!

The Jeep speeds away, side-swiping a taxi and a parked police car as pedestrians run for cover.  Steve rides shotgun with Leslie hunkered in the back seat, her long hair twisting from the turbulent vortex coming over the windshield.  A police chase ensues, but Ambrose diverts  down a one-way street and pulls into —

A DARK DRIVEWAY

                      AMBROSE

          Get down!

Police cars speed passed the Jeep’s location with horns honking and lights flashing.  Steve sits up and claps Ambrose on the shoulder.

                      STEVE

          Nice job!

Ambrose backs out of the driveway and follows —

A SIDE ROAD THROUGH SAN MIGUEL

He detours passed the main streets, heading south beyond the hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops sprinkled along the promenade.  Dust swirls in the path of the headlight beams.

                      AMBROSE

          Where’s your daughter?

                      STEVE

          We have to contact the American

authorities.

                      AMBROSE

          I already have.  I’m with the FBI.

          There’s a boat waiting to takes us

off the island.

                      LESLIE

          Not without my daughter!

                      STEVE

                (to Ambrose)

          How do I know we can trust you?

                      AMBROSE

          My wife was on the job in Aruba.

Victor Mendoza killed her in

cold blood.  We knew the FBI had a

rotten apple on the team – but no one

could figure out who.

Steve shields his eyes at the oncoming high beams from a rusted cargo van.  He watches as the van slows to turn around and give chase.  They’re coming after us!

                      AMBROSE

          Hold on!

Leslie buckles her seat belt before the van SLAMS the Jeep’s bumper, causing the Jeep to fishtail.

A SHOTGUN BLAST pulverizes the Jeep’s side view mirror, leaving a stump of shattered plastic.

                      STEVE

                (to Ambrose)

          Get closer!

Steve depresses the cigarette lighter in the dashboard.

The van zigzags behind the Jeep then charges along side. Randy aims a shotgun out the passenger window.

Steve pulls the red-hot cigarette lighter from the 12-volt socket and throws it through the van’s open window.

INSIDE THE VAN

Randy bobbles the lighter and inadvertently discharges the shotgun at the windshield.  GLASS EXPLODES.  THE VAN careens toward a steep embankment.  The van flips on its side and GRINDS along the road.

BACK IN THE MOVING JEEP

Steve and Leslie turn to see the wreckage unfold behind them.  When they face forward, they see a single headlight from a moped coming straight at them.

                      STEVE AND LESLIE

                (in unison)

          Look out!

Ambrose jabs the brakes and skids out of control, heading for a towering palm tree that brings the Jeep’s momentum to a neck-snapping halt.  Ambrose CRASHES through the windshield.

The horn blasts continuously, drowning the squawk from a flock of macas.

                      STEVE

                (to Leslie)

          Are you all right?

Steve climbs out shaken and bruised.  He feels for a pulse on Ambrose’s neck.  Steam escapes with a HISS from the front of the crumpled hood.

                      STEVE

          He’s gone…

Leslie unbuckles her seatbelt and stumbles out of the Jeep.

Another SHOTGUN BLAST sends Steve and Leslie fighting their way through dense scrub along a patch of marshy lagoon.

                      RANDY

                (shouting)

          Show yourselves and I’ll kill

          you clean.  Make me chase

          you, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.

LESLIE STEPS IN A RUT AND FALLS.  Steve helps her up.  Randy closes the gap and aims the shotgun at Steve and Leslie.

Suddenly, a figure darts out from the brush and SMASHES Randy’s head with a large rock.

A SHOTGUN BLAST tears through the trees.

STEVE HITS THE DIRT, dropping Leslie as he grabs his right ham string.

Leslie regains her footing.

                      LESLIE

          Sarah?

Sarah runs to her parents and hugs them.  Her clothes are shredded.  Her arms and face are marred with cuts and bruises.  Dirt and weeds cling to her wild hair.

The Chambers retreat to the main road where a Nissan sits with its high-beams facing them.  Two men get out, their faces hidden in the headlight wash.

Steve looks at the gold chain license plate cover; the same one he saw on the video monitor in the FBI apartment.

                      STEVE

          Run!

Gripping his leg, Steve trudges through the jungle with Leslie and Sarah as Victor and Damon launch a volley of gunfire.

LATER

The Chambers emerge from the jungle to find a beach house with a 36-foot Wellcraft Scarab parked in a sling above the water in a covered pier.

Steve crouches inside the covered pier with Leslie and Sarah.  Victor and Damon emerge from the jungle and surround the house.

Leslie and Sarah board the boat.  Steve presses the RED BUTTON in the control box mounted to a piling.  A winch unravels the cable assembly and lowers the boat in the water.

                      LESLIE (OS)
          Hurry!

ON THE SCARAB

Steve pries a helm panel open and snatches the ignition wires free.  He strips the wires with his teeth and touches the bare leads together.  Sparks fly.  Both engines come to life with a LOUD GRUMBLE.

ON LAND

Victor and Damon run toward the pier.  Victor fires at the Scarab, tearing holes in the fiberglass transom as the boat pulls away in a cloud of blue exhaust.

BACK ON THE SCARAB

Steve stands with his back against the bolstered driver’s seat.  He jams the throttles forward.  The bow rises sharply as the boat gathers speed.  Bullets ricochet.

                      STEVE

          STAY DOWN!

Water sizzles beneath the hull.  Land disappears in the distance.  Then the engines sputter.

INSERT – STEVE GLANCES AT THE GAUGE DISPLAY

The needle for the oil pressure gauge drops to zero.

BACK TO SCENE

The Scarab slows.  The bow settles in the water as both engines cough and sputter.  Black smoke belches from the engine compartment.

                      LESLIE

          What’s happening?

                      STEVE

          I don’t know.

Steve glances at the radio destroyed by a stray bullet.  His feet slosh in the flooded deck.  He opens the engine hatch and finds an oil slick rising in the flooded compartment.

                      STEVE

          We’re taking water.

Leslie hugs her daughter.  Waves lap the hull.  Steve searches the CUDDY CABIN and retrieves an orange flare gun.

Leslie looks down to see the water level at her ankles.

Steve inspects the damaged radio and throws the broken microphone in disgust.  He loads the flare gun.

                      SARAH

          I’m scared.

                      STEVE

          SHHHH!

The whine from a two-cycle outboard grows louder as a Zodiac tender approaches from shore.

                      SARAH

          They’re coming!

                (beat)

                      STEVE

          I want the two of you off the boat.

                      LESLIE

          We’re not leaving you–

                      STEVE

          You’re not safe here.

                      LESLIE

          What about life jackets?

Steve glances at a pair of bright orange life preservers floating across the deck.

                 STEVE

     They’ll see you.

           (beat)

You’re both strong swimmers.

Don’t fight the current.

                      LESLIE

          What are you going to do?

                      STEVE

          Whatever it takes.

Leslie and Sarah climb overboard.  They tread water beside the sinking Scarab.  The steady current carries them away as Steve leans over the side.

                      STEVE

                (whispering)

Stay quiet.  Don’t splash.

Whatever happens, I love you both.

EXT. ZODIAC – NIGHT

Victor and Damon approach the sinking Scarab.  Damon pumps the shotgun.  Victor slaps a fresh clip in the MP5.

IN THE SCARAB

Victor inspects the EMPTY CUDDY CABIN.

IN THE ZODIAC

Damon shines a spotlight at the water.

BACK TO SCARAB

                      VICTOR

          They’re not here.

BACK TO ZODIAC

Damon turns slowly to maintain his balance as a hand rises out of the water with a FINGER ON THE FLARE GUN TRIGGER.

Damon aims the shotgun at Steve, but before he can fire,

A FLAMING PROJECTILE HITS DAMON IN THE MOUTH.

Damon falls backward in the water with his face on fire.

Victor shoots the water until the magazine expires.  He tosses the submachine gun and dives at Steve.  The two men grapple hand-to-hand UNDER WATER.

Steve takes an elbow to the nose and returns the strike with a blow to Victor’s solar plexus.  Victor forces Steve in a choke hold.  Bubbles seep from Steve’s mouth.  His eyes bulge when he sees the spinning propeller cut across his path and approach several strands of Victor’s long, floating hair.

Victor tries to wrench his head away but the fast spinning blades grind into the back of his skull.

Steve surfaces through the bloody water, gasping for air. He pulls himself inside the Zodiac and unfastens the engine from the transom.  He threads the oars in the oar locks and rows away from Victor’s body.

                      STEVE

          L-E-S-L-I-E!  S-A-R-A-H!

The Scarab’s bow slips below the surface.

                      STEVE

                (voice cracking)

          L-E-S-L-I-E!  S-A-R-A-H!

He scans the moonlit water until he sees an arm waving.  He rows against the current to reach his wife and daughter.  He helps them in the Zodiac and collapses from exhaustion.

                      SARAH and LESLIE

                (together)

          We thought you were dead.

                      STEVE

          So did I.

EXT. CHINCOTEAGUE – DAY

Crewmen drape blankets over Leslie and Sarah.  Seaman Tate and another crewmate carry Steve on a cot as Captain Peters arrives on deck.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          I guess you found them.

Steve looks at Leslie and Sarah then turns back to the Captain and gives the thumbs up sign.

INT. HOME OF STEVE AND LESLIE – DAY

SUPER: “ONE YEAR LATER”

Leslie dices celery on a cutting board in the kitchen.  When she’s done, she sets the chopping knife on the counter and dumps a can of white meat StarKist in a strainer in the sink.  The cordless phone rings.  She wipes her hands on a towel and takes the handset from the base station on the wall.

                      LESLIE

          Hello?

INTERCUT – STEVE’s LEXUS SUV STUCK IN TRAFFIC

Steve braces his elbow against the door and holds the cell phone to his ear.

                      STEVE

          Hi Baby…

RETURN TO LESLIE IN KITCHEN

                      LESLIE

          You’re late.

                      STEVE (VO)

          I’m almost home.

                (beat)

          Is Sarah back yet?

                      LESLIE

          She’s still at Katy’s.

                (beat)

          She’s fine.  I told her we’d

          take her shopping next weekend.

          Maybe look for a new car.

                      STEVE (VO)

          Honey…

                      LESLIE

          I’m just saying…

Leslie watches a brown UPS truck pass by the kitchen window.

                      LESLIE

          The FBI called again this morning.

                      STEVE (VO)

          The same agent you talked to

          before?

                      LESLIE

          Yeah.  He said they’ve found no

record of any company named Hot

Spot Vacations.

                      STEVE (VO)

          What about the investigation?

                      LESLIE

          He wouldn’t tell me.

Leslie exits the kitchen and enters —

THE LIVING ROOM

She sees the UPS truck parked in her driveway.  The doorbell rings.

                      STEVE (VO)

          What’s that?

                      LESLIE

          Are you expecting a package?

                      STEVE (VO)

          No.

Leslie enters —

THE FOYER

She peels the curtains back on the window overlooking the driveway.  The sun is shining.  Kids are playing in the street.

Leslie unlocks the deadbolt and peers out the peephole.  She opens the door and finds a brown box on the steps.  She bends over and picks up the box.

                      STEVE (VO)

          Don’t open the door.

                      LESLIE

          It’s all right.

Leslie turns the box over and shakes it.  She tucks it under her arm and starts to close the door.

                      LESLIE

          Did you do something naughty

          for my birthday?

Damon appears at her doorstep in a UPS uniform with black leather gloves and a shiny new machete.  His mouth and chin are grotesquely malformed with scarring across his face.

Leslie screams.  She slams the door and locks the deadbolt, dropping the phone in her haste.  The room spins in circles as she runs to —

THE KITCHEN

She grabs the chopping knife from the counter.  She returns for the phone as Damon bursts through the door and tackles her by the ankles.  She drops the knife and kicks him in the face.  She scrambles up —

THE STAIRS

Leslie sprints toward —

STEVE’s STUDY

She barricades the door with the desk.  She opens the closet and reaches for the gun safe.  When she finds the safe locked, she searches the desk drawer for the key.

OUTSIDE STEVE’s STUDY

Damon pounds the door with the machete, splintering the hollow panel one whack at a time.

INSIDE STEVE’s STUDY

Leslie searches frantically for the key.  She unlocks the safe and retrieves Steve’s .45 caliber M1911 service pistol.  She SLAPS the loaded magazine in the handle and pulls the slide back to chamber the first round.  She aims at the door and fires three shots with a two-handed grip.  Damon cries out.

Leslie lowers the gun.

LATER

Leslie pushes the desk away and slowly opens the door with the machete stuck inside.  She aims the gun at –-

THE EMPTY HALLWAY

A blood trail leads down the stairs.  Leslie keeps her back to the wall, descending one step at a time toward the foyer where the cordless phone sits in plain view.

Damon jumps from behind the sofa and tackles Leslie.  His shirt is soaked in blood as he fights for the gun.  Leslie fires a single shot near Damon’s ear and knees him in the groin.

Damon slams his elbow against her face and knocks the gun across the floor.

Leslie runs for —

THE BASEMENT STAIRS

She reaches the single French door exit – BUT The deadbolt locks from the inside with the key dangling from a nail in the basement stAIRS.

Damon descends the stairs with the machete.

Leslie sidesteps toward Steve’s work bench littered with scuba tanks, a rubber dry suit, and an assortment of masks and flippers.  She steps in front of a yellow scuba tank with a green Nitrox II label.

                      LESLIE

          The police are on their way.

Damon rubs his thumb across the shiny blade.

                      DAMON

          They won’t make it.

Leslie slips her hand in her pocket and retrieves her cigarette lighter.

Damon lunges with the machete poised to strike.  Leslie screams.  She flicks the cigarette lighter and cranks the Nitrox valve open, blowing a stream of fire that lights up Damon like a Roman candle.

Engulfed in flames, Damon continues his assault.

BANG! BANG! BANG!  Three shots explode from the stairs.  Damon drops in a burning heap.

BACK TO STAIRS

Steve stares at Leslie through the smoke.

                      STEVE

          Sorry I’m late.  Traffic was hell…

Steve and Leslie embrace.  A crescendo of police sirens drown the waning smoke alarm.  Fade to black.

THE END

Screenplay: Without a Trace… Part 4

INT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Steve sorts through a pile of photocopied pictures of Leslie and Sarah.  A Cozumel map sits open on the desk with hotel names and locations crossed off with red marker.  The sheets on the bed are still fresh with mint candies on the pillows.

Steve reaches in the nightstand drawer and pulls out one of Leslie’s shirts.  He crumples the shirt and inhales it.

EXT. PRESIDENTE SUITES PARKING LOT – DAY

Steve approaches Ambrose from the main lobby entrance.  The sun is blinding.

                      STEVE

          I got your message.

                      AMBROSE

          We found the Jeep.

Ambrose strolls toward a damaged rental Jeep.  A crack in the windshield distends from one end to the other.  Both headlights are broken.

                      AMBROSE

          The police towed it here an

          hour ago.  Found it abandoned

          near the Puntas Molas Lighthouse.

                      STEVE

          Where’s that?

                      AMBROSE

          Near Cozumel’s southern tip.  About

          four kilometers from the main road.

Steve circles the Jeep and inspects the gravel embedded in the knobby tires.  He checks the floor mats and finds a burned match.

                      STEVE

          You’re sure this was hers?

Ambrose glances at his clipboard.

                      AMBROSE

Your wife signed the rental

agreement two days ago.

                      STEVE

          Was anyone with her besides my

          daughter?

                      AMBROSE

          I don’t know.

                      STEVE

          Any indication where she went?

Ambrose looks over the rental agreement.

                      AMBROSE

          No, but the contract forbids

anyone from leaving the island.

                      STEVE

          Could someone ferry a rental

Jeep off the island?

                      AMBROSE

          Technically they’re not suppose

          to, but it happens.

Steve wipes his hands across the seats, searching the fabric and the space around the sandy floor mats.  He taps the gas can strapped to the tail gate; it rings HOLLOW.  He touches the severely scratched hood.

                      STEVE

          This vehicle’s been through hell

and back.

                      AMBROSE

          Most of this island is uninhabited.

With unpaved roads and rocky shorelines,

the environment takes its toll on our

rental fleet.

                      STEVE

          The roads didn’t damage this hood.

Ambrose’s beeper goes off.  He takes it from his belt and reads the number.

                      AMBROSE

          I have a pick-up at the airport.

If you need me, you can page me

at the front desk.

Steve watches Ambrose walk away.

                      STEVE

          What do you know about the

lighthouse at Puntas Molas?

Ambrose turns.  He cups his hand on his forehead to shield the sun.

                      AMBROSE

Not much.  It’s been closed for

repairs since last summer.

            STEVE

Would anyone go there to swim or

dive?

Ambrose shrugs.

                      AMBROSE

          They’d be crazy if they did.

          The waters on that side of

the island are very rough. 

There’s a strong rip tide and

a rocky shoreline that claims

at least one boat a year.

Steve checks his watch and nods.

INT. LOBBY, PRESIDENTE SUITES – DAY

Steve approaches the front desk and spots Randy pushing a luggage cart toward the elevator.  Randy makes eye contact with Steve, then looks down at the floor and shakes his head.

INT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Steve packs a duffel bag with crackers, water, and a map of Cozumel.  A knock at the door prompts Steve to open it.

Steve discovers an empty hallway.  He jogs toward the stairwell and looks over the open landing.  When he returns to the room, he finds a note on the floor outside his door.

INSERT – STEVE READS THE NOTE

Midnight – Pier 3 – San Miguel.

EXT. SAN MIGUEL, PIER 3 – NIGHT

Live music carries across the street from the seaside promenade where Steve loiters among the masses dwarfed by the towering cruise ships.

Steve proceeds along the pier to a vacant kiosk.  A payphone rings.  He grabs the handset on the third ring.

                      STEVE

          Hello?

The line is silent.  Then a man’s voice come on.

                      MAN’s VOICE (VO)

          Steve Chambers?

                      STEVE

          Who is this?

                      MAN’s VOICE (VO)

          El Loco’s Bar off Adolfo Rosado

Salas.  Be there in ten minutes.

Alone.

                      STEVE

          Wait…

INT. EL LOCO’s BAR – NIGHT

Patrons whisper when Steve enters the dirt floor establishment.  Murals of ocean scenery cover the stucco walls.  Mariachi music plays from a radio behind the bar.

Steve approaches a back room table where FBI Agents Dale Smythe and Wendy Riker sit beneath the smoky glow of a naked light bulb.  Smythe motions toward Steve.

                      STEVE

          Who the hell are you?

Agent Riker displays her badge.  Her gravel voice is thick and husky, yet almost sultry at the same time.

                      AGENT RIKER

          I’m Special Agent Riker with the

FBI.  My partner, Special Agent

Smythe.

                      STEVE

          What is this?

Agent Smythe leans forward on the bench seat, exposing his considerable girth and his 9mm Glock holstered beneath his Hawaiian shirt.  He nudges the top of his dark-rimmed glasses that sit high on the edge of his bulbous nose.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Sit down.

                      STEVE

          Why the cloak and dagger act?

                      AGENT RIKER

          We wanted to be sure you weren’t

          followed.

                      STEVE

          Followed by who?

Agent Smythe points to the opposite bench seat.

                      STEVE

          You’ve been following my family

since we landed in Cozumel.

Agent Smythe lights a cigarette and blows smoke out the corner of his mouth.  Riker leans forward, exposing cleavage from her V-neck blouse.

            STEVE

What do you know about my wife

and daughter?

            AGENT SMYTHE

We’re investigating the disappearance

of nine people at various Caribbean

resorts.  All are wealthy.  And all

tapped their bank accounts before they

disappeared.

                      STEVE

          What are you saying?

Agent Riker fans the cigarette smoke.

                      AGENT RIKER

          We suspect a piracy ring is involved.

                      STEVE

          Piracy?

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          It’s more common than you think.

          Though usually not in Caribbean

          waters.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Has anyone contacted you about

          a ransom?

                      STEVE

          No.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Have you seen anyone suspicious

          near your family?

                      STEVE

          Aside from you two?

Steve glances around the room.

                      STEVE

          Are you working with the local

authorities?

                      AGENT RIKER

          They’re aware of our investigation

but our partnership with the Mexican

Government remains tenuous at best.

                 AGENT SMYTHE

     The Mexican Government doesn’t

appreciate Uncle Sam throwing

his weight around.

           (beat)

     Especially when we suspect that

one of their own is involved.

                      STEVE

          Someone in Cozumel?

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          We don’t know for certain.  What

          we do know is that yesterday

at 0800, a Coast Guard sonar pinged

a sunken vessel in 300 feet of

water outside Aruba.  The wreckage

is uncharted.

      (beat)

We suspect it might be a British

yacht last scene in that general

vicinity; the boat’s been missing

for three days – along with its

diplomat owner and his mistress.

                      STEVE

          And you think pirates did this?

            AGENT SMYTHE

Possibly.

                      STEVE

So what’s the connection to

my family?

            AGENT SMYTHE

We don’t know, yet.

                      STEVE

          Then why are you wasting

          my time?

Agent Smythe glances at his partner, then back to Steve.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

We pulled your naval records.

You’ve done everything from

scrubbing hulls to underwater

demolition.  We need you to dive

to this sunken ship and identify it.

            STEVE

Why?

                      AGENT RIKER

If it’s the yacht we’re looking for,

it might provide us with a lead.

Something tangible we can work from.

                      STEVE

          Sounds like a job for a Coast

          Guard salvage team.

                      AGENT RIKER

          The Coast Guard needs four days

to assemble a team.  We can’t

spare four hours.

                (beat)

          We can have you on site by 0600.

                      STEVE

          Three hundred feet is serious depth.

          We’re talking mixed gas.  Heated suits.

          And a top-side crew that’s worth their

          salt.

                       AGENT SMYTHE

          The Coast Guard has equipment on

board.  What they need is someone

qualified to use it. Right now,

you’re the only option we’ve got.

                      STEVE

          And what about my wife and daughter?

          Who’s searching for them when I’m

          gallivanting under water?

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          We have undercover agents investigating

your family’s disappearance as we speak.

Our people are good at what they do.

The sooner we act on this, the better

our chances of finding your family.

Steve wipes his hand through his close-cropped hair.  Agent Smythe drops his cigarette on the dirt floor and crushes it under his shoe.

                      AGENT RIKER

Time is our enemy.

Steve shakes his head.

                      STEVE

I don’t know…

                (beat)

          I spoke with the Deputy Consulate

          at the American Embassy–

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          And he assured you his people are

          doing everything they can, right?

                      STEVE

          Yes.

                (beat)

                      AGENT RIKER

          Do you know how many people

disappear in Mexico City every day?

                      STEVE

          No, not exactly.

                      AGENT RIKER

          We’re not debating what the Deputy

          Consulate told you.

                (beat)

          The question is: do you believe him?

EXT. SEA-NOTE BOW – DAY

Victor stands on deck with a 12-gauge pump-action Browning.  He blasts two clay pigeons from the sky.  Pulverized fragments fall toward the water.

                      VICTOR

          Again!

Damon pulls a rope attached to a spring-loaded launcher. Three clay targets hurl through the air.

In one fluid motion, Victor brings the shotgun to his shoulder, aims across the length of the barrel, fires, pumps, and fires again.  3-inch magnum cartridges litter the deck.  Smoke trails from the heated muzzle.

                      VICTOR

          I’m out.

Damon hands him a box of shells.

                      DAMON

          They’ll be here soon.

Victor reloads.

Damon launches three more targets.  Before Victor can load the last shell and fire, Damon draws his .357 Magnum and blasts the clay disks.  Large chunks of broken clay fall to the water.

LATER

A 36-foot, twin-engine Donzi approaches from the distance and slows alongside the longer yacht.  Victor steps across the Sea-Note’s gunwale to tie off.

                      VICTOR

          Carajo!  Donde has estado?

A bearded CUBAN BUYER in a straw hat, khaki Chinos, and a silver briefcase boards the Sea-Note.  Two body guards armed with UZIs remain on board the Donzi.

                      DAMON

          You’re late.

The Cuban Buyer throws a glance at Victor.  VICTOR LEAVES THE SCENE AND VENTURES TOWARD THE WHEELHOUSE.

INSIDE THE SEA-NOTE’s STARBOARD CABIN

Spread eagle on her back, Leslie stares up at the cabin ceiling.  Her eyes dart back and forth at the sound of men’s voices.  Her wrists and ankles are tied with ropes that extend beyond the corners of the mattress.  She strains to free herself.

BACK TO THE SEA-NOTE MAIN SALON

                      DAMON

                (to Cuban Buyer)

          Let’s see the cash.

The Cuban Buyer opens the silver briefcase and reveals several $10,000 bundles of used bills.

                      CUBAN BUYER

          Four-hundred thousand.

                      DAMON

          The deal was five.

                      CUBAN BUYER

          This is not the boat I wanted.

Damon paces about the cabin.  He stops at the starboard porthole in the galley and peers at the body guards aboard the Donzi.

                      DAMON

          Four-ninety.

The Cuban Buyer whistles for his men.  Victor emerges from the WHEELHOUSE with a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun.

                      CUBAN BUYER

          Perhaps you take me for a fool?

                      DAMON

          I’ll take you anyway I want.

Victor riddles the Cuban body guards with two quick bursts from the MP5.  Shaking uncontrollably, the Cuban Buyer puts his arms in the air.  His crotch is stained with urine.

                      CUBAN BUYER

          Please…  Take the money. 

It’s yours.

Victor blasts the Cuban Buyer, knocking him backward as bullets tear his chest apart.

EXT. COAST GUARD CUTTER – NIGHT

A helicopter hovers above the 110-foot Coast Guard Cutter, CHINCOTEAGUE.  Spot lights flood the landing pad where Agent Smythe and Agent Riker escort Steve across the deck.

Shielding his eyes from the chopper’s downwash, Coast Guard CAPTAIN PETERS greets Agent Smythe with a handshake.  A slender man with steel blue eyes and a dark tan, Captain Peters wears a gold academy ring with an emerald stone.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Couldn’t stay away could you?

Agent Smythe turns to Steve.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Here’s your man.

Steve extends a hand shake to the Captain.

                      STEVE

          Steve Chambers.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Captain Peters.  Good to meet you.

          Welcome aboard the Chincoteague.

          I’m not sure how much you’ve been

          briefed, but I can bring you

          up to speed.  We’ll commence our

          operation at 0700.

                (beat)

I’m sorry about your family.  I

hope this mission helps.

                      STEVE

          Me too.

INT. CHINCOTEAGUE SLEEPING QUARTERS – NIGHT

Steve rests on his back, staring wide-eyed at the bunk above him.  An enlisted crew member SNORES LOUDLY in the rack across from him.

LATER

Steve checks his watch.  He rolls over.

STEVE DREAM SEQUENCE – LATER

Steve’s hands shake beneath the murky water where he floats above the surface with a scuba tank on his back, panning an underwater flashlight at the hull of the sunken ship half buried in a portion of the ocean’s sandy bottom.  Ripples in the metal plating on the foredeck structure reveal rusted patches encrusted with layers of barnacle growth.

Steve breaks a portal with the butt of his dive knife and aims the light at a school of silver-gray fish swimming in the ship’s dining room.  Lengths of wooden molding float among the waterlogged rubble in a salt-water grave.  His own exhaust bubbles rumble above his head as he inspects the grease-pen sketch on the dive slate attached to his scuba vest.  The light reflects off the white tablet as he studies the hand-drawn outline of the ship’s interior.

Employing a steady scissor kick, he swims toward the ship’s stern.  The underwater visibility deteriorates.

He swims inside a gaping hole above the engine room and ties a guide line to a length of railing.  He swims through floating debris until a figure passes in front of him.  Unable to discern the shadows through the heavy sediment, he swims toward the bloated bodies of Leslie and Sarah.  Their faces appear translucent with hollow eye sockets.

Steve spits out his mouthpiece and inhales a lung full of water.

STEVE’s BUNK – PRESENT DAY

Steve snaps awake.  He’s flat on his back, drenched in sweat.  Shoes CLANG on the metal deck until a black Coast Guard crewman named SEAMAN TATE calls out.

                      SEAMAN TATE

          Ready when you are, Captain.

EXT. COAST GUARD DECK – DAY

Agent Smythe greets Steve as he makes his way to the diver’s staging area.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          You up for this?

                      STEVE

          Yeah.

                (beat)

          Where’s your partner?

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          In the shitter.

A group of enlisted men gather around the coils of hoses extending from the surface-supplied air control center.  Seaman Tate unlocks a storage trunk and drags out a canvas bag.

                      SEAMAN TATE

                (to other crewmate)

          Give me a hand with this.

Steve watches the men unload the diving equipment.  He shakes his head when he sees the Russian version of an American Mark V dive helmet complete with a metal breast plate and canvas suit with lead-bottom boots.

                      STEVE

                (to Agent Smythe)

          You’re kidding me.

Agent Smythe turns to Captain Peters.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Not what you expected?

                      STEVE

          Where’d you find that, e-Bay?

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          It’s old but it works.  And it’s

          all we’ve got.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          What’s the problem?

                      STEVE

          These rigs were decommissioned

in ’79.  I wouldn’t put my worst

enemy in one of these.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          A lot of off-shore drilling

operations still use them.

Steve examines the dive helmet.  Agent Smythe lights a cigarette.  Behind the men, a small crane pivots with a length of steel cable and an air-supplied umbilical cord extending from the metal arm.

Seaman Tate steps forward.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Tate, this is Master Chief Chambers.

          You’ll be his ears on this mission.

                       SEAMAN TATE

          Aye aye Sir.

                      STEVE

                (to Seaman Tate)

          You ever worked a mixed gas rig before?

                      SEAMAN TATE

          Yes Sir.

                      STEVE

          How many hours?

Seaman Tate looks at the Captain then turns sheepishly to Steve.

                      SEAMAN TATE

          Counting today?

EXT. CRANE HOISTS STEVE OVERBOARD – DAY

Suspended by the mechanical arm, Steve dangles over the cerulean blue water before the winch slowly deploys him feet first.

                      SEAMAN TATE

                (instructing the crane operator)

          We ain’t got all day. There’s seven

minutes of air in that suit.

                      AGENT SMYTHE
          What’s the problem?

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

The suit is self contained. 

We can’t turn on the main air

supply until he’s fully submerged.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Why not?

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          He’ll blow up like the Michelin

Man.

INT. SEVERAL FEET BELOW THE SURFACE – DAY

Steve checks his air pressure from the analogue gauge on his wrist.  He sinks quickly with a narrow field of vision through the oval faceplate.  His voice echoes inside the copper helmet.

                      STEVE

          How’s my air?

                       SEAMAN TATE

          Holding steady.

200 FEET BELOW THE SURFACE – LATER

Colors fade in the absence of natural sunlight.  Underwater visibility diminishes.

                      SEAMAN TATE (VO)

          Approaching two-hundred and

fifty feet.

                      STEVE

          Copy that.

Steve activates his underwater strobe affixed to a lanyard on his breast plate.  Air bubbles gurgle from his helmet’s exhaust port.  When his feet touch the surface, he pans the light.

                      STEVE

          We’re here.

He plods along the sandy bottom.

                      STEVE

          I don’t see it…wait…up ahead.

                      SEAMAN TATE (VO)

          Do you have visual contact?

                      STEVE

          Affirmative.  Large figure.

Can’t make out the details.

Steve reaches the remains of the 50-foot sailing yacht and finds a jagged opening in the hull.  The mast lays broken in half.  Bullet holes riddle the starboard side.  Shards of broken glass deflect the light beam.

                      SEAMAN TATE (VO)

          Watch your umbilical.

                 STEVE

     Copy that.

Steve cranes his neck when a shadow flashes across his peripheral vision.  He pans the light and sees nothing but floating sediment.  He holds his breath, then slowly exhales.

                      AGENT SMYTHE (VO)

          You find our boat?

Steve shines the light in front of him and makes his way around the yacht’s stern.  The name X-T-SEA trails off the damaged transom.

                      STEVE

          If you’re looking for a motor

          yacht, this isn’t it.

Static crackles in the dive helmet.

                      SEAMAN TATE (VO)

          Chief…  You’re breaking up.

                      STEVE

          Tate?

Steve bangs his helmet with the flashlight.  For a moment, all is silent except for the sound of his exhaust bubbles. a hammerhead shark blasts through a jagged opening in the yacht’s hull, tearing across Steve’s path.  The flashlight SMACKS the yacht and dies.  Surrounded in darkness, Steve pants inside the helmet.

                      STEVE

          Tate?  Are you with me?

Steve fumbles in the dark for the flashlight.

                      STEVE

          Tate?

More static.

BACK ON DECK – LATER

A frenzied Seaman Tate shouts at the crane operator.

                      SEAMAN TATE

          Take him up!  Take him up NOW!

LATER

The crane gently lowers Steve on deck.  Water drips from the canvas suit.  INSIDE THE SUIT, Steve sweats profusely about the head and neck.  He stares out the helmet faceplate as the ship’s crew members gather to help remove the dive gear.

                      STEVE

          It’s getting hot in here.

Seaman Tate takes a pneumatic lug wrench and starts to unscrew the first of 8 bolts securing the helmet to the breast plate.

                      SEAMAN TATE

          Save your breath.  I’ll have

          you out in a jiffy.

The pneumatic wrench malfunctions, emitting a rat-tat-tat-tat sound.  Seaman Tate taps the wrench against the deck to revive it but the equipment continues to fail.  He grabs a manual wrench and attacks the second bolt by hand.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Get him out of there!

                      STEVE

          You wanna crack the O2 a notch?

Seaman Tate works frantically to loosen the third bolt.

                      SEAMAN TATE

          You know I can’t do that Chief.

                      CREWMAN

The compressor’s dead.  We’re

switching to a back-up unit.

                      CAPTAIN TATE

          How soon?

                      CREWMAN

          Ten minutes.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          We don’t have ten minutes!

Seaman Tate spins the fourth bolt off with his finger and clamps the wrench on number five.  Sweat pours down his face.

Steve leans forward and falls toward Seaman Tate.  Steve’s eyes roll back in his head.  His face turns pale.

                      SEAMAN TATE

          He’s out!

STEVE DREAM SEQUENCE

Steve sees a ghostly image of Leslie in a dark room, pounding his chest, yelling at him to wake up.  Leslie puts her lips to his mouth.

BACK TO CHINCOTEAGUE DECK – PRESENT DAY

Agent Riker kneels beside Steve’s body, pinching his nose; blowing in his mouth.

Steve pops his eyes open and coughs.  He inhales a shallow breath and stares beyond Agent Riker.

                      STEVE

          Baby?

Agent Riker helps Steve to an upright position.  Seaman Tate looks over her shoulder.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Take a deep breath.

Steve looks around, dazed and confused from his brush with death.  Crewmen cheer.

                      STEVE

          What happened?

                      AGENT RIKER

          You just stepped out for a second.

                (beat)

          You’re all right.

INT. OFFICER’s QUARTERS – NIGHT

Agent Smythe leans back in a swivel chair bolted to the floor.  Across from him, Agent Riker holds a brown accordion folder.  Steve enters wearing Navy sweats.

                      STEVE

          You got a minute?

                      AGENT RIKER

          You look better.

Steve faces Agent Riker.

                      STEVE

          I…Ahhh…Owe you big-time.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Forget it.

                (beat)

                      STEVE

          Someone wanted that yacht

          at the bottom of the sea.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          The Coast Guard’s sending a

salvage team.  They’ll be here

in three days.

                      STEVE

          Where does that leave us?

                      AGENT RIKER

          The chopper returns at 0800.

          We’ll be in Cozumel by dawn.

                      STEVE

          Any word on my family?

Agent Smythe shakes his head.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Not yet.

Agent Riker hands Steve the accordion file.  Inside, a butterfly clip holds several black and white mug shots.  Steve thumbs through the photos.

                      STEVE

          What’s this?

                      AGENT RIKER
          Our greatest hits collection.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          We believe two of the men

in those photos have connections

to this man.

Agent Smythe displays a mug shot of Victor Mendoza.

Steve glances at the photo.

                      STEVE

          Oh my God…

START OF FLASHBACK

Steve recalls Victor’s face during his family’s dive trip.  He recalls the tattooed forearms of an eagle clutching a trident as Victor slaps Sarah on the shoulder.

BACK TO PRESENT DAY

                      AGENT RIKER

          You all right?

Steve points to Victor’s photo.

                      STEVE

I’ve seen this man before.

                      AGENT RIKER

                (incredulously)

Where?

            STEVE

On the dive boat at the Presidente

Suites.

      (beat)

The day my wife and daughter disappeared.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Do you recognize this man?

Steve shakes his head.

                      STEVE

          Who is he?

                      AGENT RIKER

          Victor Arellano Mendoza, a Cuban

immigrant from Miami.  Served four

years as enlisted Navy before

applying for special forces training

with the SEALS.  He blew a gasket

during BUDS and killed his drill

instructor.  Served two years in

Leavenworth before escaping.  He

killed two guards in the process.

That was nine months ago.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Last month, an anonymous caller

tipped a Miami Coast Guard patrol

about Mendoza’s involvement in a

pirating scheme.

                      AGENT RIKER

We’ve tracked Mendoza to Curacao and

          Saint John where a family disappeared

from a chartered yacht.

Agent Smythe blows smoke through his nose.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

Mendoza killed a female Agent

in Aruba.

      (beat)

Every time we get close to him he

slips through our fingers like the wind

INT. FBI APARTMENT, SAN MIGUEL – NIGHT

Steve peers through a window overlooking the Caribbean.  His face is drawn; his eyes sunken and pinched from lack of sleep.  Agent Smythe enters.

                      STEVE

          We’re wasting time.  Every minute

we sit here and do nothing puts

my wife and daughter in greater jeopardy.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          If we go in with guns blazing and

Mendoza isn’t there, we’ll tip

our hand.

            STEVE

So now what?  We sit here and

sing Kum bi ya?

            AGENT SMYTHE

We’ve had the phone lines tapped.

There’s 24-7 video surveillance

throughout the resort.  If Mendoza

or his men were there, we would

have seen them by now.

            STEVE

And what if they’ve already left?

What if they’ve taken my wife and

daughter with them?

Agent Riker enters the room with her cell phone.  She nods to Agent Smythe.

                      AGENT RIKER

          I got a call from Lieutenant

          Mierez.  One of his men found

a floater near the northern tip

outside the Puntas Molas lighthouse.

                 AGENT SMYTHE

     How long ago?

                 AGENT RIKER

     About an hour.

  AGENT SMYTHE

          Male or female?

                      AGENT RIKER

          Undetermined.

Agent Smythe grabs his Glock from the table and tucks it down the back of his shorts.  Steve wipes his hand through his hair.

                      STEVE

          This can’t be happening.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Call Mierez back.  Tell him we’re

on our way.

INT. WOODEN STORAGE SHED – NIGHT

Sarah stands up and feels along the wall for a light switch.  Confused and disoriented, she flicks on the single bulb dangling above her and finds Natalie Johnston curled in a corner.

                      SARAH

          Who are you?

Natalie pulls away, shielding her face with her hands.  Her shirt is soaked in sweat.

                      NATALIE

          Natalie.

                      SARAH

          Where are we?

Natalie shrugs.

Sarah moves to the boarded window hammered shut with 16-penny nails.  She touches the nail heads and looks around the empty storage shed for something to pry with.

                      SARAH

          We have to get out of here.

                      NATALIE

          They’ll find us.

                      SARAH

          Not if I can help it.

INT. POLICE HEADQUARTERS, SAN MIGUEL – NIGHT

Steve follows Lieutenant Mierez along a narrow hallway with Agent Smythe and Agent Riker at his side.  The four descend a flight of stairs to —

THE MORGUE

Steve, Smythe, Riker, and Mierez stand over the body on a gurney covered with a plastic tarp.  Smythe and Riker cover their mouths with their hands.  Mierez pulls a handkerchief from his pocket.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Let’s do it.

Lieutenant Mierez pulls the tarp back to reveal a white, bloated body with a severed arm and substantial flesh wounds to the torso.

Agent Smythe turns his head and gags.  He blows chunks.  Intestinal fluids hit the floor with a WET SLAP.

                      Lieutenant Mierez

                (mumbling through the handkerchief)

          Do you recognize this person?

Steve steps around the body.

                      STEVE

          I can’t tell.

Agent Smythe leaves the morgue.  Steve follows.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Where are you going?

                      STEVE

          To check on something.

EXT. PUNTAS MOLAS LIGHTHOUSE – NIGHT

Steve crouches outside the lighthouse foundation.  He finds an entrance blocked with an iron gate secured with a chain and lock.  He shines the light on a wooden plaque hanging from the chain.  Waves SPLASH against the rocky shoreline.

INSERT – STEVE READS THE WOODEN PLAQUE

Peligro – No Entrada ilegal!

BACK TO SCENE

Steve backs away from the locked gate and proceeds around the other side.  He stops in his tracks and looks down at his feet.  At his ankles, a nearly invisible length of fishing twine stretches across the ground, reverberating like a plucked guitar string.  He follows the line with the flashlight beam.  The line ends at a claymore mine embedded in the ground.

He SLOWLY retreats and finds another path to follow, one embedded with deep tire tracks in marshy soil.  He pans the flashlight beam along the ground and discovers a piece of broken plastic partially buried in the dirt.  He inspects the broken plastic and wipes a clear spot to reveal the remnants of an orange Tic-Tac case.

INT. LIEUTENANT MIEREZ’s OFFICE – NIGHT

Lieutenant Mierez takes a long drag from his cigarette and blows smoke at an out-of-balance ceiling fan.  Sweat beads on his forehead.  Across the room, Agent Riker scribbles on a notepad.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Any verdict on the cause of death?

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Not yet.

Agent Smythe enters the room and shakes a cigarette from his soft pack.  When his cell phone rings, he puts it to his ear and frowns.

                      AGENT SMYTHE
          AFIS came back with a hit on

our DOA’s prints.  A woman named

Pamela Johnston.  She took a

collar eighteen years ago for

assaulting an officer at a pro life demonstration.

Smythe puts a cigarette between his lips.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

I’ll check the airlines and the hotel

Registries.  If the Johnstons came to

Cozumel recently, Mendoza might still

be in town.

                      AGENT RIKER

          I’ll check their bank records for

unusually activity.

Lieutenant Mierez paces by his desk.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Let me know what you find.  The life

          of another man’s family may depend

          on it.

INT. SEA-NOTE STARBOARD CABIN – NIGHT

The whine from an outboard motor fades against the sound of waves lapping the hull.  Leslie pulls on the ropes around her wrists and creates enough slack in the lines to free one hand.  Her wrists bleed from the effort, but she manages to untie herself and leave the cabin confines.

OUTSIDE THE CABIN

Leslie presses her ear to the adjacent wall.  Hearing nothing, she moves through the companionway toward —

THE MAIN SALON

                      LESLIE

          Sarah?

Leslie enters —

THE WHEELHOUSE

She sees the outline of an inflatable yacht tender heading for shore with two men on board.  She reads the navigation chart on the plotting table.  Belize is circled in red marker.

She takes the VHF radio from the helm and keys the microphone.

                      LESLIE

          Mayday mayday mayday! Request

          immediate assistance, over.

STATIC CRACKLES from the speaker.

                      LESLIE

          Mayday!

                      COAST GUARD (VO)

          This is the United States Coast

          Guard.  Please identify…

Leslie keys the mic.

                      LESLIE
          You have to help me.  I’ve been

          kidnapped…

More static.

                      COAST GUARD (VO)

          …your location…over…

The speaker starts to BUZZ and WHINE as Leslie adjusts the squelch control.

                      COAST GUARD (VO)

          …please identify…over…

When the dinghy circles back, Leslie abandons the radio and rummages through a toolbox.  She retrieves a monkey wrench and SMASHES the dashboard and navigation monitors.  Sparks fly with pieces of broken glass and plastic.

OUTSIDE THE HELM STATION

A two-cycle outboard drones louder as Leslie creeps along the gunwale opposite the approaching boat.  She climbs over the bow rail and drops to the water feet first.  She side-strokes to —

THE SWIM PLATFORM

She hides underneath, waiting for the men to return.

LATER

Victor and Damon reach the Sea-Note and tie off.  They jump aboard the yacht with guns drawn.

                      VICTOR
          Check the cabin.

BENEATH THE SWIM PLATFORM

Leslie quietly leaves the confines of her hiding space and pulls herself inside the dinghy.  She unties the line and drifts away before she yanks the starter cord.

Damon exits —

THE WHEELHOUSE

He skirts along the gunwale toward the stern.

                      DAMON

          HEY!

Damon fires at Leslie in the dark.

BACK AT THE YACHT TENDER

Leslie cranks the handlebar throttle wide open, forcing the bow to rise abruptly as the small inflatable heads for shore.

Gun shots echo across the water.  The outboard sputters and dies.  Ducking for cover, Leslie yanks the starter cord repeatedly.  When the motor won’t start, she notices the fuel valve TURNED TO THE OFF POSITION.  She adjusts the valve and pulls the starter cord until the engine comes alive.

Leslie crouches in the small inflatable, facing forward with one arm bracing an oar lock.  The boat dips sharply as Victor launches himself on board like a monster from the deep.  Leslie screams.

INT. CHAMBERS’ SUITE – NIGHT

A startled maid screams when Steve enters his hotel suite.

                      STEVE

          What are you doing?

The maid jumps away from the dresser.  Clothes are strewn about the floor.

                      MAID

          Lo siento, senor.  Lo siento.

                      STEVE

          Habla usted ingles?

His Spanish accent resounds like a Chinese tenor with a head cold.

The maid keeps her head down and advances toward the door. Steve blocks her path.

                      STEVE

          What are you looking for?

He points to Leslie’s clothes.

                      MAID

          Dejeme ir, por favor!

                      STEVE

          Tell me!

The maid thrashes when he tries to grab her arms.

                      MAID

          Please…Senor…If they find me…

                      STEVE

          Who?

                      MAID

          El faro.  Bad things happen there.

                 STEVE

     El faro?

                 MAID

     The house with light.

                 STEVE

     The what?

           (beat)

     A lighthouse?

                 MAID

     Si.

                 STEVE

     Are my wife and daughter there?

The maid shakes her head and flails her arms.  Agitated to the point of hysteria, she breaks free and bolts for the stairwell outside.

                      STEVE

          Wait!

Steve chases her to the hallway where he hears a loud scream followed by a sickening THUMP.  He rounds the corner by the elevators and finds the maid’s apron caught in the walkway banister.

He leans over the railing and sees the women’s body lying face down; her arms and legs skewed at awkward angles.

Randy emerges from the elevator.

                      RANDY

          Senor Chambers?

                      STEVE

          Randy?

Randy peers over the guardrail as Lieutenant Mierez approaches with two armed officers.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          STOP!

Steve darts inside the stairwell and runs down.  The officers give chase.

INT. WOODEN STORAGE SHED – NIGHT

Using a flat head screw driver, Sarah pries a nail loose from the boarded window.  She works her fingers between the plywood and the window.

Shouting erupts from outside the room.  A burly man with a grizzly beard and an UZI barges inside.

                      BURLY MAN
          Get away from the window!

Sarah drops the screwdriver.  Natalie runs for the corner.

INT. CARGO VAN – NIGHT

Sarah and Natalie crouch toward the back of the cargo van as the sliding door SLAMS SHUT.  Their hands are tied.  Duct tape covers their mouths.

FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD

The driver steers with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the UZI.  His unfastened shoulder belt clangs against the door frame.  Branches scrape the van’s roof and side view mirrors as Sarah reaches for the sliding door.  When the driver glances in the rear view mirror, Sarah withdraws her attempt.  Natalie mouths the word no.

INT. FBI APARTMENT, SAN MIGUEL – NIGHT

Agent Smythe lights a match and holds it at the end of his cigarette.  Agent Riker looks on disapprovingly.

                      AGENT RIKER

          If you light up one more time in

here, you’ll be smoking that

          through your ass.

Agent Smythe fans the air with the match to extinguish the flame.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          Who pissed in your Wheaties?

He takes a notepad from his shirt pocket and flips it open.

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          I pulled the hotel registry from

the Presidente Suites and found

a record for Marvin and Pamela Johnston.

They checked out two days ago – with

two adult children.

           AGENT RIKER

But we’ve only got one body.

           AGENT SMYTHE

So far…

      (beat)

I also checked the Johnston’s bank

          records.  Two days ago, Pamela

Johnston withdrew $800,000 from her

joint account.

           AGENT RIKER

Maybe she wanted to disappear?

                     AGENT SMYTHE

          From what?

                     AGENT RIKER

          An abusive husband?  A chance for

          a better life?

                     AGENT SMYTHE

          And abandon her kids?

                     AGENT RIKER

          I’ve seen it before.

                (beat)

           AGENT SMYTHE

Her husband owns a bank.  If she

needed money, she could have

taken it at any time.

                      AGENT RIKER

          You really think Mendoza’s men

got to her?

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          It fits the profile.

Agent Smythe pulls the slide on his Glock and grabs a map from the table.

                     AGENT SMYTH

          Call Mierez and tell him to

meet us.

Agent Smythe heads for the door.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Where are you going?

                      AGENT SMYTHE

          To play a hunch.  I’ll be back

in an hour.

INT. CARGO VAN – NIGHT

Gravel PINGS inside the van’s wheel wells as the rusted Dodge 250 starts down a gravel road.  When the driver’s cell phone rings, he pulls the phone from his shirt pocket and answers.

Sarah glances at Natalie.  Natalie inches closer to the sliding door.

Sarah lunges for the handle and pulls it down.  The door slides open to reveal an endless wall of jungle brush whirring by in a blur.  The driver taps the brakes and waves the UZI at the girls who both jump out and bounce violently like a pair of crash test dummies.

Up ahead, brake lights illuminate the darkness before the back-up lights engage and the van accelerates in reverse.

The driver jumps out and surveys the landscape.  He plunges toward the jungle, spraying the UZI in the girls’ direction.  The clamor of RAPID GUNFIRE echoes through the trees.  A flock of blue warblers SQUAWK in unison.

INT. CHINCOTEAGUE WHEELHOUSE – NIGHT

A glow illuminates from the radar screen where Captain Peters stands at the helm beside the radio officer.  A torrential downpour pounds the glass in front of him.  A constant hum reverberates in the background.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Any word from our mayday caller?

                      SEAMAN

          No Sir.

                      CAPTAIN PETERS

          Keep at it.  I want to know the minute

          we pinpoint the signal’s location.

EXT. PIER AT PRESIDENTE SUITES – NIGHT

Agent Smythe creeps through the bushes along the deserted path leading to the Divers’ Paradise.  Top 40 music plays from the tiki bar.  A young couple strolls hand in hand on the beach, oblivious to Smythe’s presence.

INSIDE THE DIVERS’ PARADISE

Smythe shines his pen light in the cabin and climbs —

BELOW DECK

He finds a pump-out head and a locked storage compartment. He picks the lock and opens the lid to find a broken spear gun and several life jackets.  A hidden panel

reveals a machete.  Smythe squirts the blade with Luminal and observes the lime green color indicating the presence of blood.

He wraps the machete in a rag and climbs —

ON DECK

A shadowy figure jumps him from behind.

EXT. FBI APARTMENT, SAN MIGUEL – NIGHT

Steve arrives to find the door unlocked.  He enters.

                      STEVE

          Hello?

He moves toward the back of the room and hears the clack-clack-clack from a length of spinning audiotape slapping the empty spool on a reel-to-reel recorder.  A video monitor shows the image of his Jeep parked outside.  A wisp of steam rises from the contents of a Styrofoam cup.

                      STEVE

          Agent Smythe?  Agent Riker?

He follows the hallway to the darkened bedroom where the emerald eyes of a cube-shaped alarm clock flash the time at 5:15 a.m.  A cockroach scampers up the wall.  The bathroom faucet drips.

Standing over an open suitcase on the bed, he pokes at the folded shirts and women’s underwear packed beside a romance novel and a .22 caliber semi-auto Beretta Bobcat.  He palms the tiny gun as Agent Riker appears.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Find what you’re looking for?

                      STEVE

          I found this at Puntas Molas…

Steve presents the orange Tic-Tac case.  Agent Riker steps toward him and cocks her head inquisitively.

                      AGENT RIKER

          What is it?

                      STEVE

          I found this container at the Puntas

          Molas lighthouse.  My wife eats these

things like candy.

                      AGENT RIKER

          How’d you get in here?

                      STEVE

          The door was open…

Steve moves away from the suitcase toward the light seeping in from the hall.

                      STEVE

          Where’s your partner?

                      AGENT RIKER

          He went out for a smoke.

          It looks like we may have

          found your wife and daughter.

Steve blinks. He clears his throat before he speaks.

                      STEVE

          You what?

                (beat)

          Where?  When?

                      AGENT RIKER

About an hour ago.

                      STEVE

          Are they all right?

                      AGENT RIKER

          They’ve been detained.

Steve glances at the video surveillance camera and sees Victor drive up in a Nissan taxi with a gold chain license plate cover.  Steve points the Beretta at Agent Riker.

                      STEVE

          What the fuck is going on?

                      AGENT RIKER

I think you know the answer

to that.

Riker pulls her Glock from her hip holster and aims at Steve.

                      AGENT RIKER

          Put it down.

Riker advances.  Steve pulls the trigger twice and hears CLICK CLICK as the Bobcat’s firing pin strikes an empty chamber.

Riker nods her head toward the door when Victor enters the apartment.

                      AGENT RIKER

                (to Steve)

          I should have let you die on

the Chincoteague.

                      STEVE

          Why didn’t you?

                      AGENT RIKER

          Bad timing.

EXT. SEA-NOTE BOW – NIGHT

Victor pours gasoline on the bow as the Cuban’s Donzi approaches from the watery horizon.

Screenplay: Without a Trace… Part 3

EXT. DIVE SITE AT PALANCAR REEF – DAY

The divers each take a giant stride off the swim platform, holding their masks and snorkels as they splash into the crystal clear water.

UNDERWATER MONTAGE – THE CHAMBERS FAMILY UNDERWATER

  • Steve swims parallel within arm’s length of Leslie and Sarah.  He gives Sarah the “ok” sign.  Sarah responds with the same, kicking her flippers to maintain neutral buoyancy.
  • The group of divers drift through the labyrinth maze of coral arches and winding ravines with Victor in front and Damon brining up the rear. Schools of brown chromis and multi-colored parrot fish sweep through the pinnacle reef.

EXT. BACK AT THE SURFACE – LATER

The dive group surfaces with Sarah coughing and flailing her arms.  Her DANGLING regulator free-flows IN THE WATER, hissing and spitting.  Her snorkel is bent backwards off her face mask strap.

Steve swims to her and places her regulator in her mouth.  They kick on their backs to —

THE DIVERS’ PARADISE

The Captain helps them climb the narrow swim ladder.

                      STEVE

                (to Sarah)

          What happened?

                      SARAH

          Nothing.

                      STEVE

          Never remove your regulator when

you surface.  You never know when

a wave might splash your face.

                      SARAH

          I know I know…

Leslie boards the boat and hands her flippers to the Captain.  Her mask and snorkel dangle around her neck.

                      LESLIE

          What happened?

                      SARAH

          Nothing.

                      STEVE

She got some water in her mouth.

Victor hoists Steve’s scuba tank from its holder and replaces it with a fresh one.  Damon boards the boat with the remaining divers.  Sarah rubs her eyes.

                      VICTOR

                (to Steve)

          Your tank is half full.

Steve shrugs.

                      LESLIE

          My husband’s a Navy Rescue Diver.

Victor pats Sarah on the shoulder and hands her a bottle of Evian.

                      VICTOR

                (to Steve)

          Do you always rescue little girls?

Steve looks at Victor and smiles.

                      STEVE

          Only when they need it.

EXT. DIVERS’ PARADISE RETURNS TO RESORT – DAY

The Chambers family sits solemn-faced as the Captain guides the boat against the T-pier.  Damon and Victor tie off.

Sarah storms off the boat, lugging her dive gear as she marches down the shaded path toward the pool.

Leslie steps off the Divers’ Paradise.  Her shirt is damp.  Spanish music blares from tripod-mounted speakers outside the thatched roof cabaña where a family of four awaits their afternoon dive trip.

                      LESLIE

          We’re here all week.  Let’s

          make the best of it.  I’ll take

Sarah shopping, maybe tour the

island for a little while – spend

some girl time together.

Leslie kisses Steve’s cheek.

                      LESLIE

          We’ll meet you back at the room

          by 6:00 for dinner.  I’ll let you

          pick the restaurant tonight.

      (beat)

You behave yourself sailor.  And no

flirting with the locals.

Steve hoists his dive bag on his shoulder.

                      STEVE

          Have fun.
                (beat)

          And be careful.

INT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – DAY

Steve enters the room.  The space is dark with the curtains drawn.  He drops his room key on the dresser and finds a note from Leslie.

INTERCUT – STEVE READS LESLIE’s NOTE

Gone to San Miguel.  Be back by 6:00.  X0 X0 XO.

BACK TO SCENE

Steve kicks his sandals off and sprawls himself on the king-size bed.  He takes the television remote and flips to a sports channel.

EXT. SAN MIGUEL TOWN SQUARE – DAY

Leslie and Sarah carry shopping bags to their rental Jeep.  Sunburned and sweaty, they leave San Miguel and drive along the seaside promenade where cruise ships loom off shore as tall as high-rise buildings.

INT. LESLIE’s MOVING JEEP – DAY

Sarah traces her finger along the unfolded road map in her lap.  In her other hand, she holds a Frommer’s Travel Guide.

                      SARAH

          Turn right at the next road.

                      LESLIE

          What’s the name?

                      SARAH

          I can’t read the small print.

Leslie steers down a one-way street that leads away from the water and deeper into a desolate part of town.

                      LESLIE

          This doesn’t look right.

                      SARAH

          I’m telling you what the map says.

                      LESLIE

          Well the map is wrong.

They continue driving until they reach a fork in the road.  Sarah turns the map upside down.

                      SARAH

          I don’t know where we are.

Leslie stops the Jeep and takes the map.

                      LESLIE
          We’re too far east.  We should

          have turned left instead of right.

Leslie rubs her forearm across her sunburned brow.  Her hair is damp and flat.  She takes a swig from a bottle of water.

                      LESLIE

          Maybe I should navigate?

                      SARAH

          I can do it.

Leslie drives beyond a section of Mayan ruins and slows when the dirt road ends.  An iguana shuffles across the road toward the dense jungle brush.

                      LESLIE

          Shit…

Sarah smacks a mosquito on her neck.

                      SARAH

          We’re going in circles.

Leslie guns the engine.  The tires spin.  Dirt CLANGS inside the wheel wells.

                      LESLIE

          Not if I can help it.

EXT. DIVERS’ PARADISE DIVE BOAT – DAY

Slowing off plane, the bow settles as the boat trolls above the dive location.  Anvil head cloud formations linger overhead.

MARVIN JOHNSTON, a 56-year-old investment banker sits beside his blonde wife PAMELA JOHNSTON.  She wears shades and a one piece swimsuit.  The Captain cuts the throttles back and nods to the crew from the fly bridge as Victor tends to the family’s dive gear.  Damon coils a length of nylon rope attached to a galvanized fluke anchor.

Marvin’s 22-year-old son, ROBERT JOHNSTON, stares at Victor’s tattoos of an eagle clutching a golden trident.  Robert’s 17-year-old sister NATALIE JOHNSTON looks across the water at the distant shoreline.  Natalie is petit and pretty; freckle-faced and innocent.

                      MARVIN

                (to Robert)

          Help your sister with her gear.

Natalie shields the sun’s reflection with her hand.

                      NATALIE

          Are there sharks in here?

                      ROBERT

          They won’t bother you.

Robert watches Victor check the air pressure on a scuba tank as the boat sways gently in the one foot swells.

                      ROBERT

                (to Victor)

          Were you in the service?

Victor ignores the question and retreats toward the front of the boat where a life ring hangs beside a spear gun mounted on rubber brackets.

                      PAMELA

                (to Damon)

          You need a hat.

Pamela reaches in her dive bag and retrieves a crumpled baseball cap with a Reece Bank logo imprinted on the brim. She hands the cap to Damon.  Her mirrored glasses capture his reflection.

Damon flops the adjustable hat above his bald spot.  Strands of hair poke out from the sides and back. 

                      DAMON

          Thanks.

Pamela rubs Hawaiian Tropic on her arms.

Damon turns to catch Natalie bent over as she tries to reach the mask and snorkel beneath her seat.  Damon retrieves it for her and helps her don her gear.

                      MARVIN

                (to Natalie)

          Check your air supply.

Robert takes his sister’s air hose and inspects the needle on the pressure gauge. 

                      ROBERT

          She’s got a full tank.

Damon pulls a dive knife from a sheath secured around his calve.

                      DAMON

          Who’s first?

Marvin looks at his son Robert and nods.

                      MARVIN

          You up for this?

The captain climbs down from the fly bridge and grabs the spear gun loaded with a pointed, barbed shaft.

                      CAPTAIN

          We want the girl.

Marvin faces the captain who points the spear gun at Robert.

                      MARVIN

          What?

Damon points the knife at Natalie.

                      DAMON

          Your daughter.

                      MARVIN

          What is this?  Who are you?

Pamela puts her arms around her daughter.

                      NATALIE

          Mom?

Robert steps in front of his mother and sister.

                      ROBERT

          Dad?

                      CAPTAIN

          Just do what they tell you.

                      MARVIN

          I have money.  Lots of. I’ll

          pay you whatever you want.

                      DAMON

          Right now we want the girl.

Damon tosses the anchor line at Marvin’s feet.

                      DAMON

          Tie this around your ankle.

Marvin looks at his wife and daughter.

                      MARVIN

          I’ll do no such thing.

Marvin removes his Rolex watch and offers it to Victor who hands it over to the Captain.

Damon grabs Pamela’s arm and pulls her toward himself with the knife at her throat.  Victor takes hold of Natalie.

                      NATALIE

          Mom!

                      DAMON

          Last chance.

Marvin secures the nylon line around his ankle.

                      MARVIN

          Don’t hurt my family.

                      PAMELA

          Marvin no…

Damon tosses another line at Robert’s feet with a collection of weight belts tied at the bitter end.

                      DAMON

          You too.

Robert lunges at the Captain’s knees with a wrestling move and dodges the spear that sails over his shoulder.  Robert pummels the Captain with a flurry of punches until Victor calmly stabs Robert in the lower back with a pointed dive knife and secures the rope to Robert’s ankle.

Pamela screams through the hand on her mouth.

Victor tosses the weight belt overboard.  The rope pile uncoils, pulling Robert beyond the transom and into the water where he sinks like a rock, leaving a blood smear across the deck.

                      MARVIN

          For the love of God!

Victor releases Natalie and pushes the anchor overboard, causing the coil of rope to quickly unravel and jerk Marvin’s leg out from under him, dragging him IN THE WATER.

Marvin clings to a partially inflated dive vest.  Below him, Robert sinks toward the sea floor.

Marvin wrestles with the rope around his ankle.  He glances up to see the sun reflect off the silver spear gun a second before a barbed shaft PUNCHES THROUGH HIS OUTSTRETCHED HAND and hits the front of his neck.

BACK ON THE DIVERS’ PARADISE

A catatonic Pamela Johnston envelops her daughter as Victor secures a dock line to another anchor.

                      PAMELA

                (in tears)

          What do you want?

                      DAMON

          Your money.  All of it.

EXT. COZUMEL JUNGLE – NIGHT

Lost in the darkened labyrinth of unmarked trails and Mayan ruins, Leslie drives the Jeep beneath a full moon where the intermittent roar of jet aircraft overwhelm the cacophony of crickets and buzzing insects.

INT. THE MOVING JEEP – NIGHT

Sarah grabs the padded roll bar for support as Leslie drives over rocky terrain.  The road dead-ends at a virtual wall of jungle scrub entwined with overgrown vines and branches.

                      SARAH
          We’re still going in circles.

Leslie dims the headlights and turns to Sarah.

                      LESLIE

          Listen…

Sarah kicks an empty water bottle on the floorboard. Leslie kills the engine.  In the stillness, the sound of breaking waves becomes apparent.

                      LESLIE

          We’re near the water…

INT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Steve paces in front of the balcony with the phone against his ear.  His eyes are red and puffy.  He slams the phone down and heads to —

SARAH’s ADJOINING SUITE

He pounds the door.

                      STEVE

          Sarah, if you’re in there

open up.

INT. DINING HALL – NIGHT

Steve shuffles between crowded tables, scanning the dinner crowd for any sign of Leslie or Sarah.  A clock on the wall reads 10:15.

                      WAITER

          Sir, may I help you?

Steve takes Leslie’s photo from his wallet and holds it up.

                      STEVE

          Have you seen this woman?

The waiter studies the picture.

                      WAITER

          No.

Steve stares across the buffet line, the waiter stations, the open kitchen space, and the terrace where smokers enjoy an after-dinner drink.  He returns to —

THE FRONT DESK

He approaches the vacant counter space and taps the bell.  Randy, emerges from the back room.

                      RANDY

          Mr. Chambers…

                      STEVE

          Anything?

                      RANDY

          Should I page them again?

                      STEVE

          Please.  And phone my room the

second you hear from them.

EXT. COZUMEL JUNGLE – NIGHT

Leslie and Sarah traipse through the jungle until they emerge at the base of a lighthouse and find Victor and Damon about to drive away in a rusted cargo van.

Leslie waves her arms.  She and Sarah run toward the men. Waves crash against the rocky shoreline where a stretch of sandy beach extends in the distance.

                      LESLIE

          Wait!  Help!

Leslie drops her hands to her knees.  Nearly out of breath, she shields her eyes from the blistering sun.

                      LESLIE

          Thank God we found you…

EXT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Steve approaches his room from the elevator and finds an elderly maid closing the door to his suite.  He grabs her by the arm.

                      STEVE

          Disculpe…  Please…

The maid steps away from her laundry cart and shakes her head.

                      MAID

          Que hace usted?

                      STEVE

          Habla usted Ingles?

                      MAID

                (avoiding eye contact)

          Muy poco.

Steve shows her the wallet photo.

                      STEVE

          Have – you – seen – her?

                      MAID

          Que?

Steve stares at the ceiling and mumbles to himself.

                      STEVE

           Los has visto?

He takes the hotel key from his pocket and points to the number on his room door.

                      STEVE

           Mi cuarto.

The maid pushes past him and shakes her head.

                      MAID

           No lo puedo ayudar.

                      STEVE

           Please…  Por favor…

The maid hustles for the open elevator.  The doors close quickly behind her.

EXT. SAN MIGUEL TOWN SQUARE – NIGHT

Steve leaves a Nissan taxi and shuffles through the menagerie of cruise ship tourists.  He taps several women on the shoulder.  Convinced he sees Sarah, he starts down a crowded —

ALLEY

Steve follows a young girl in a baseball cap with headphones on.  He taps her shoulder.

                      STEVE

          Sarah?

Startled, the girl spins around to reveal her severely scarred face, bearing no resemblance to Sarah.

INT. SAN MIGUEL POLICE HEADQUARTERS – NIGHT

Steve enters the municipal building with dusty ceiling fans spinning slowly overhead.  A clock on the back wall reads 2:00 a.m.

Steve approaches LIEUTENANT MIEREZ behind a metal desk with a stack of rumpled manila folders.  The Lieutenant wears a linen suit with a two-day beard and slicked-back hair that forms a widow’s peak above his forehead.

                      STEVE

          I’m looking for Lieutenant Mierez.

The Lieutenant lights a cigarette with a match.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          You’ve found him.

Steve pushes the wallet photo across the desk.

                      STEVE

          My name’s Steve Chambers.  We

spoke on the phone about my

missing wife and daughter.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Yes…

Steve taps the picture.

                      STEVE

Your men were suppose to meet me

an hour ago.

The Lieutenant examines the photograph.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Yes, of course.  My apologies.

Lieutenant Mierez blows smoke out his nose and reaches for a clipboard in his desk.

                     LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          If you’ll fill this out–

                      STEVE

          And then what?

The Lieutenant’s phone rings.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

                (to Steve)

          Excuse me one moment.

Lieutenant Mierez holds the phone to his ear.  He swivels his chair to face the window behind him.  The voice on the other end grows louder, impatient.

The Lieutenant hangs up and leaves his chair.  He takes the car keys off his desk.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          I must go.

                      STEVE

          Now?

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          My men will contact you as

          soon as you submit the paperwork.

                      STEVE

          Where are you going?

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

                (exasperated)

          Senor Chambers, we have procedures

to follow, just like in your country.

Your wife and daughter are in

Mexico on vacation, yes?  Perhaps

shopping or riding the ferry to the

mainland for the night.  I’m certain

they will return sooner than later.

                      STEVE

          Maybe you’re not hearing me.

I need your help – now.

Lieutenant Mierez takes a handkerchief from his pocket and blows his nose.

                      STEVE

          My wife and daughter are not bar

          hopping or dancing the night away

          with a cruise ship party.  I haven’t

          seen or heard from them in twelve hours.

Lieutenant Mierez takes a long drag from his unfiltered cigarette and blows smoke in Steve’s face.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Then I suggest you contact your

embassy in Mexico City.  Perhaps

they can tell you what it is you

want to hear.

INT. SEA-NOTE YACHT – NIGHT

Engulfed in darkness, Leslie awakens on her back.  The boat’s diesel engines drone inside the engine room.  She’s groggy and disoriented when she rolls off the bed and lands on the floor with a THUD.  Rain smacks the porthole in the bulkhead above her.

                      LESLIE

          Sarah…

Leslie hugs the wall and fumbles for the stateroom door where she stumbles into a narrow, dimly lit hallway and proceeds to the PORT SIDE CABIN.

                      LESLIE

          Sarah?

Leslie grabs the latch, but it’s locked.  She slams her shoulder against the panel.  Wood CRACKS AND SPLINTERS.

Inside the cabin

Leslie sees an oval bed with blood spatter on the walls and carpet.  A shadow moves behind her.  She covers her mouth and retreats from the macabre setting.  She SCREAMS when Damon appears, stretching a length of rope between his hands.

EXT. DC-10 AERO MEXICO FLIGHT – DAY

Rear landing gear brush the runway as the DC-10 lands at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City.

EXT. AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION SERVICE AREA – DAY

Clutching a small carry-on bag, Steve hails a taxi.

INSIDE THE TAXI

A plastic crucifix hangs from the rear view mirror where the driver’s dark eyes reflect back at Steve.

                      STEVE

          Paseo de la Reforma.

                      DRIVER

          You want the embassy?

Steve hands the driver forty dollars.

                      STEVE

          Step on it.

Steve unzips the carry-on bag and withdraws a map of Cozumel.  Using a yellow highlighter, he traces the route from the Presidente Suites to the center of town in San Miguel.  Through the window, the bustling metropolis of Mexico City disappears in a blur of smog and traffic.

INT. AMERICAN EMBASSY, WELFARE AND WHEREABOUTS OFFICE – DAY

Steve paces inside the office of DEPUTY CONSUL JOSE BONITEZ.  A framed picture of George W. Bush hangs prominently on the wall behind a mahogany desk.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Sorry to keep you waiting.

Jose Bonitez, a man in his sixties with a cheap suit and a bad come-over, motions for Steve to take a seat.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Please sit down.

                      STEVE

                (still standing)

          I was hoping to speak with the

          Consul General.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          The Consul General is out of the

          country on business but my secretary

has apprised me of your situation.

                      STEVE

          So you’ll help me?

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

Generally, my office cannot act

until the person or persons involved

have been missing for 48 hours – but

given the circumstances, I’ve started a preliminary investigation.

                      STEVE

          Preliminary?

Deputy Bonitez walks to the window overlooking the city.  He pulls a fresh cigar from his suit jacket and clips the tip with a silver cutter.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Have you spoken with the authorities

in San Miguel?

                      STEVE

          I spoke with a Lieutenant Mierez

this morning.  He suggested I contact

the embassy.

Deputy Bonitez props the cigar in his mouth.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

Violent crime runs rampant in

Mexico City – and elsewhere. 

This office handles a hundred

complaints a month for robbery,

assault, rape…  Even murder.  My

people are understaffed and overwhelmed.

                      STEVE

But you’ll do everything you

can to find my wife and daughter?

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Have you received a ransom note?

                      STEVE

          No.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Any threatening phone calls?

                      STEVE

          What are you getting at?

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Any evidence that your family

is in immediate danger?

                      STEVE

          Aside from the fact that I haven’t

          seen or heard from them in 24 hours?

                (beat)

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Would you say it’s possible

your family has gone missing on

their own accord?

Steve takes Leslie and Sarah’s passport from his pocket.  He opens Leslie’s first, then Sarah’s, revealing the pictures inside the front cover.

                          STEVE

          We’re talking about my wife and

          daughter, not some shit-faced

teenagers lost on a Spring break

binge.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

Senor Chambers, I assure you my

people will do everything they can.

Steve glances at the passport photos, then throws Deputy Bonitez a stare that could penetrate steel.

                      STEVE

God help you if they don’t.