For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Come visit me at: www.coloradobardsplace.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
Dark brows knit, Keller pushed the button for the option to listen to the message again. She held the small phone to her ear, holding up a hand to forestall whatever Parker was about to tell her so she could try and concentrate again on the hysterical message.
"Keller! Get you and Parker down here ASAP!" Sob. "WefoundDeanandfiveothers,ohmygod,Keller,wefoundhim!" Sob.
The tall pilot stood there, mouth slack-jawed as it registered what the blonde had said. Turning stunned eyes to an expectant Parker, she swallowed. "Go pack a bag for Florida, Parker." The teenager ran back up the stairs, their Beagle, Tut attempting to run after her, but his arthritis causing him to follow at a limping pace, though his bark was still worse than his bite ever was.
Keller walked over to a kitchen chair, falling into it, stunned, and still not entirely sure she'd understood. Shaking herself out of her daze, she quickly dialed the familiar number to Garrison's cell phone. It was picked up after half a ring.
"Keller?! Oh, thank god," the blonde ran a hand through her hair, her eyes so sore from all the crying she'd done. "Oh, baby, we did it. Oh, Keller…"
"Whoa, whoa, honey, what's going on?" The brunette stood from her chair, realizing that she, too needed to pack a bag. She headed up to her and Garrison's bedroom.
"We found six survivors on an island, Keller! And Dean was one of them."
Keller faltered at the top of the stairs, nearly landing face first on the landing. "What?"
Sob. "Yes. Mia Vinzetti, Rachel friggin' Holt! Oh, god, Keller. Please hurry. I need you here."
"I'm coming, baby. Parker's packing a bag now, and I'm on my way to." The brunette pushed through the door into their room, looking around frantically for an overnight bag, holding the cell to her ear with her shoulder.
"Thank you, Keller."
Dark brows drew. "For what?"
"For having faith, and wanting to make one more run. All those people would have been stuck there for God only knows how long."
"I can't believe so many survived. Nine people! That's unheard of!"
"Where are you?"
"We're at Duke's house. We could only take three, so we're heading back out in the morning."
"Who all do you have?"
Garrison was getting impatient. She needed to see Keller, and she needed to see her now. "Less talk, ore fly!"
Keller chuckled. "I love you. See you in a few hours."
Rachel ran her hands over her face, wiping the water out of her eyes. She turned off the water flow, wishing she could stand underneath it all night, but she knew other people were in that house other than herself, Dean and Mia. Besides, she was surprised there was any hot water left after Dean's marathon shower. She was the last, the other two swathed in clothing from Duke and his family. The blonde's own borrowed sweats and tee shirt were folded on the toilet seat.
Stepping out of the shower stall, the author blew out a breath, feeling utterly exhausted. It had been one of the craziest days since the day of the crash. The flight back to Florida had been long, though probably far shorter than it seemed. Rachel had looked out the windows, part of her terrified to be in the air, the other part amazed to feel padded seating again. She and the others had been shocked to find a large group waiting for them when they landed, employees and crew of the hangar and small, attached airport. They'd swarmed the plane, cheering and hollering as the three refugees disembarked. They'd been offered, food, drink, anything they desired. The first word out of all of their mouths was , "Shower!"
Duke, his wife Eva and their three sons, were kind and generous, offering their home to the survivors, which had quickly become dubbed as the Island Six, until they could be shipped back to their own homes.
Home. That was such a foreign and confusing word for Rachel, who truly had no idea where she wanted to go. Her world had completely turned upside down in the past year and two months. When looking in the mirror over the sink before stepping into the shower, Rachel hadn't recognized herself. Yes, her hair had grown out, her body hairier than it usually was, and she needed a serious eyebrow wax, but the changes had nothing to do with her physicality. It was all in her eyes. The blonde had to looked away from them, unable to look in their depths and see the altered soul within.
How was it that she had discovered herself on that island, yet back on dry and, felt so incredibly lost? It was as though nothing made sense, nothing she had known for twenty-eight years seemed like the truth; her life was a lie.
Rachel wrapped herself up in a fluffy towel, inhaling the fragrances that danced all around her nose in the steam-filled room: laundry soap, shampoo, steam-enhanced body soap. She nearly moaned in pleasure as she rubbed lotion onto newly-shaved legs, the smooth skin felt wonderful to her palms and fingers. Rachel almost felt overwhelmed by the luxuries all around her. Hell, just peeing in a real toilet had been the highlight of her day! And then, not even having to bury it in rock-infested dirt. Bliss.
Passing her hand over the smooth, steam-opaque glass of the mirror, she studied herself, noting had thin she'd really gotten. She could almost hear Reenie chewing her out, all the while trying to fatten her up. Reenie. The author smiled, suddenly filled with a sense of giddiness. On the flight back to Florida, the pilot, Garrison, had explained what had been happening over the past year and some change, the 1049 Club that Reenie and Matt had established, and the committee, led by Will Ash, that was set up to try and find any survivors.
She had been offered the use of Garrison's cell phone once she got out of the shower. The blonde felt a mixture of nervous energy and elation at the prospect. She couldn't wait to hear Reenie's voice again, and let her know she was okay.
Mia took a deep breath, grateful for the hair band Duke's daughter, Ivory, loaned her. Her hair had gotten long and unruly on the island, and it was bliss to have it out of her face. She closed her eyes as she took a huge bite of the cheeseburger, chewing with slow reverence, allowing all the flavors- ketchup, Mayonnaise, mustard and pickles- to burst in her mouth, along with the taste of the grilled meat and soft bun. What she had once taken for granted as Tuesday night dinner had become a delicacy of the richest variety.
When the girl opened her eyes, she felt sheepish, as every pair of eyes at the table were on her. Dropping her gaze down to her plate, she tried not to make an absolute glutton of herself as she ran a French fry through the puddle of ketchup.
Garrison was absolutely fascinated, watching both Dean and Mia dig into their dinners with no relish she'd seen before. That's not true; it reminded her of Parker when she was little, and the blonde pilot had introduced her to beloved chocolate milk. She smiled at the memory, realizing she was staring when she heard a throat clearing.
"Sorry," she muttered, looking away from Dean's raised brow. "So, Dean, are you sure you don't want to call him?"
"Positive." The attorney grinned, wiping his hands on a napkin. "I want to give Will the surprise of his life! Me!"
"I think you're going to manage that just fine, my friend," Duke chuckled, chewing on the tender skin of a tomato slice. "Bound to give the poor guy a heart attack." Duke couldn't believe that he had been part of such an amazing, momentous event, and would have to thank Garrison all the rest of his days for giving him the opportunity. He couldn't wait to go get the other three the next morning. They planned to take off just after day break.
"Isn't that the truth!" Mia grinned, gulping from her glass of milk, eyes closing once more at the wonderful cool smoothness.
Garrison chuckled. "There's plenty where that came from, Mia. Don't make yourself silk."
"Do you have any idea what it's like to only have water and cocoanut milk to drink for an entire year?"
"And the berry water Pam would make from time to time," Dean added.
"True. With the food masher," the teen's eyes were filled with evil intent. Everyone around the table, other than Dean, looked baffled at what was obviously a private joke between the survivors. Dean actually looked bashful as he turned his attention to his plate.
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, Sweets."
Mia chuckled. She was about to ask the blonde pilot if she could used the promised phone when there was a loud knock at the door. Garrison jumped up, quickly following Duke's wife through the house. To her relief, Keller and Parker stood on the other side.
"Oh, thank god!" She took the tall brunette in her arms, feeling like the craziness of the past few hours was finally set straight, and her world was back into focus.
"Oh, Garrison," Keller said, her voice unusually deep. When she pulled back from the hug, her blue eyes filling. "We did it?"
Garrison grinned, her own eyes watery. "We did it," she whispered.
The sun was beginning to set, seeming like it should be sizzling into the ocean depths. It was beautiful, but Denny saw none of it. She sat on the ledge she'd shared with Rachel the night before, and the place where they'd had some of the best talks she'd had with anyone. It was the ledge where she'd gotten to know the blonde, to understand, and to love her.
She raised a hand, surprised to feel moisture on her fingertip as it brushed under her eye. Looking at it, she rubbing it into her thumb, , then sighed. So they had been rescued, saved, brought forth from exile. How amazingly bitter sweet. Was she a monster to feel that way Should she be jumping up and down for joy, as Pam and Mia had been doing earlier on the beach? Should she be howling to the moon above, thankful to the Goddess of good luck and serendipity?
She felt none of those things. All she felt was confusion, and desperately lonely. Off in the distance she could hear Michael and Pam laughing, singing ridiculous songs, and basically reveling in their soon-to-be freedom. Did she want it? Of course she did. She had to go back to her life, reestablish herself in the world of civilized society again, and all that came with it. She had no choice.
Telling Rachel to get on that plane, to leave, had been one of the hardest things she'd ever had to do, but knew it had to be done. One of them had t be strong, and had to be practical. Denny damned her damn practical nature. Hannah. She had to focus on Hannah, and getting her life back with the researcher. What had Hannah done all this time? Denny knew her partner was a strong woman, but she also knew Hannah was extraordinarily sensitive, and couldn't even imagine how she had managed through her grief. Knowing Hannah, who didn't like to deal with things, she'd put all of the coffee shop owner's things in one of the spare bedrooms, closed the door, and hadn't been able to look in there since. Denny smiled at the thought, then she thought about the kind of pain Hannah had been put through, and all for nothing. Would Hannah be angry? Losing so much of herself in grieving for Denny, as Denny knew she would, or would she be so relieved it didn't matter? Had Hannah moved on?
Denny rolled that thought around her brain, tasting the slight bitterness. How would she feel if Hannah had, indeed moved on? If she were dead, looking down at her partner, she knew she would want to see Hannah happy, and whatever it took to make her that way, Denny would be all for. But she wasn't dead. She was very much alive, and heading home.
Denny felt like such a hypocrite, daring to think she may possibly be hurt or angry if Hannah were dating someone else, when she, herself had fallen in love with another woman while away from Hannah. She had valiantly tried to fight it, stop anything from happening, knowing that if Hannah and her situation were swapped, the researcher would have done the same thing for her. She would have waited. Even still, Denny could control what her body did, almost, but there was just no way to stop the heart from following its own path. And, boy had it followed its own path! It had boarded that plane yesterday with Rachel Holt.
Denny was so tired, her eyes burning almost as much as her heart ached. She wished she could just close her eyes and go back to her world before the crash, before the name Rachel Holt meant anything more than just a face and distant author.
Michael sat back, hands tucked behind his head, and a permanent smile plastered on his face. It hadn't left since he'd spotted the plane earlier that day. Pam's was just as big, the vet laying in the sand across the small fire.
"What's the first thing you're going to do?" Pam she asked, not taking her eyes from the constellations above, knowing this would be the last time she saw them so clearly.
"That's easy," the Texan said, his voice soft and wistful. "Give my kids the biggest damn hug they ever had."
Pam smiled at that, picturing it well. "Yeah. Me, too. My daughter, and my grandson."
"Grandkids," he whistled through his teeth. "Can't even imagine, though my oldest boy could very well be a daddy by now. He's twenty-two."
"Pam nodded. "Tracy became a mother younger than that." Pam sighed, happy and satisfied, though she had to admit, she was a little scared to rejoin the world. "Michael?"
"Do you think they forgot about us?" She glanced over, meeting Michael's eyes, reflecting the flames. "Our families?"
"Nah," he said after some thought. "If'n they did, we'd never have been found."
"I can't believe Dean's partner is behind all this." Pam felt more tears choking her, and did her level best to swallow them down. She hadn't cried as much in the past two years as she had in that one afternoon. "He must really love that little pain in the ass."
Michael snorted. "Some love, indeed. Maybe them queers got the right idea," he said, thinking of will and Dean, Denny and Hannah. Hell, even Rachel, it seemed, the way she was always carrying on with Denny. After a heartbeat of silence, he and the older woman glanced at each other.
Pam chuckled, as did the Texan. They had never again talked about what happened between them, and it bothered some part of the veterinarian. She wanted Michael to know that she would never forget it, nor him. They had managed to comfort each other that day in a way no one else could. "Michael?"
"About what happened between us,"
The mechanic was surprised Pam was bringing it up, but apparently she needed to talk, so he gave her his full attention. "Yeah,"
"You and I have our own lives to return to, and you'll have a lot to deal with, the kids and their grief of losing their mother…" She studied his face for a moment, briefly glancing at the thick beard that hid his lips. "I just want you to know it meant something to me, and wasn't just some mindless fuck to a lonely old veterinarian."
Michael heard what she said, and was surprisingly touched by them. Pushing himself up to his knees, he crawled around to her side of the fire, and pulled her up by the hand. Pam went into the hug, resting her head on his shoulder, relishing the last bit of closeness on the island. They said nothing more, sitting on the sand in each others arms, staring into the fire.
Reenie yelled from the kitchen, telling her guests that more martinis were on the way. Tossing an olive into her mouth, she chewed happily, shaking the last of the drinks, and pouring it into the waiting glass.
"Hey, Reen?" Quinn said, sticking his head in through the swinging door.
"Yeah?" the editor said absently, loading drinks onto the tray.
"Your cell is ringing." He handed her the phone in question.
"Thanks. Take these out, will you? I'll be out in a sec."
"Sure." The copy editor grabbed the tray in steady hands, butting his way out of the large space. Reenie looked at the small window on the phone, lit and flashing a strange number. She didn't recognize it, and decided to rejoin her party, listening to her voicemail later. Tossing the phone to the counter, she was about to push through the door of the kitchen, but then decided better of it. She had a new author she was working with, and thought it might be her.
Snatching the phone back up, she flipped it open, putting it to her ear.
There was silence on the other end, though it was obvious the line was open.
"Hello?" Dark brows drew. Finally she heard someone take a breath.
"I understand I owe a great debt of gratitude to you and Will Ash."
Reenie's brows drew further, her heart skipping a beat. She knew the voice like she knew her own face, but… there was no way. "Who is this?"
"Don't you recognize the voice of your favorite author anymore, Reenie? I haven't been gone that long."
"Rachel?" the editor whispered the name, falling onto a nearby stool, her face paling, hand beginning to tremble as she tried to hold the tiny phone closer to her ear.
"It's me, Reen. I'm alive. A little thin and have the best tan of my life, but I'm alive."
The gasp that left Reenie's mouth was part whimper, part cry. "Oh my god. Oh my god. This can't be."
"It is, Reen. I swear. And if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're having your end of month, Friday night martini party. Am I right?"
"Oh, god, Rachel!" Reenie felt something explode in her chest, part shock, part profound relief, and all joy. She could heart her friend on the other line, tears in her own voice. "Where are you? How did this happen? Who found you? Where are you!?"
"Whoa!" Rachel laughed, swiping at her eyes with her hand, amazed at just how relieved she was to hear such a familiar voice. For just a moment she felt normal again. She had to keep blowing her nose and wiping her eyes as she explained what happened, and where they had all been. Her friend interrupted often, filled with tons of questions, or just plain words of astonishment, Before Rachel could even finish her tale, Reenie interrupted her yet again.
"I'm coming to get you. I'm on the airlines right now, getting us tickets."
"Wait, Reenie," Rachel felt her heart skip a beat, realizing she was about to rejoin her life, and she'd have to deal with the mess that had been left. Running at trembling hand through her hair, she sighed. "I can't get on a plane. I don't have anything, no money, no identification, nothing."
"Shit. You're right. Jesus Christ, Rachel! You're alive!" Reenie felt another burst of realization flood through her, bringing with it a new torrent of watershed.
Rachel smiled, feeling her own eyes brim again. "Crazy, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I've got to get you here. I've got t see you, Rachel. Give me the number where you're at, wait, I have it on my phone. Stay put! I'm going to call Carrie."
"Why?" The blonde couldn't understand why Reenie would call her publisher.
"Because she can get us a charter. Honey, we've got to get you here. Carrie is going to shit her shorts." Reenie paused, taking a deep breath. "Honey, your contracts have all been voided. You need to talk with Carrie, get all this straightened out."
The author took a deep breath, nodding with a sigh. "Okay."
Rachel smiled. Mostly.
The entire damn house was up in arms, the damn dogs barking like mad. Sighing in irritation, Carrie Tillman tugged her robe tighter around her body as she headed down the hall toward the front door. She growled in her throat as the bell was rung again. She hoped someone was dead for the disturbance.
Unlocking the many locks, chains and deadbolts, the VP yanked open the door of her brownstone, shocked to see one of her editor's on the stoop.
"Reenie? Are you okay? What the hell are you doing here at," she looked at her wrist, irritated again when she realized she wasn't wearing her watch.
"It's almost eleven." Reenie breezed by the surprised woman, who quickly closed the door and relocked it. She followed the bold woman into the living room, waiting not-too-patiently for an explanation. "You're not going to believe what I have to tell you, but I need you to listen. Okay?"
"You okay?" Keller asked, a comforting hand on Mia's shoulder. The girl nodded, but she was still trembling badly. As the tall pilot watched, the girl dropped her cell phone three times. "Here. Let me help," she said softly, taking the small phone from the girl's hand.
"I'm sorry," Mia said, laughing nervously.
Keller asked for the number, dialing as the girl told her. The line was ringing as the brunette brought the phone to her ear. Picked up on the fourth ring, Keller's brows drew as a woman began speaking what sounded to be Italian. She gave Mia a questioning look. "Uh, is Gloria Vinzetti there?"
Lizbeth was beside herself that someone would have the audacity to call so late! "How dare you wake me up!" she shouted into the phone, her words slightly slurred from being woken from a deep sleep. She could not understand the woman's words, her English sketchy at best. The only thing she was able to pick out was her granddaughter's name. "She works! Unlike you." And with that, the phone was slammed down, ringing in Keller's ear.
Lowering the cell phone, the pilot looked at the teen, stunned. "She hung up on me."
"What?" Baffled, Mia looked to the cell, as though it held the answers.
"Some older lady, sounded like she was speaking Italian or something."
"Italian?" The girl was trying to make sense of this. It was nine-thirty, and her mother was always home and awake by that time. She prayed that Gloria hadn't moved, changed her number, or- Gasping, the girl covered her mouth with her hand, dark eyes wide. "My great-grandmother," she whispered. It was the only thing that made sense. Taking the tiny phone from Keller's hand, Mia quickly dialed her home phone number again, the number she'd known since she was a child. The only phone number she'd ever known. As the line kept ringing, dark eyes closed, the girl silently praying that if it was in fact her grandmother, she'd answer.
Keller sat back, watching Mia as the girl toed a dog toy, her nerves flowing through her in waves. She couldn't help but wonder what was going through the girl's mind at that moment. What was making her so nervous? The tall pilot couldn't help but put herself in the shoes of the survivors. What were they facing going back to their lives? Did they have lives to go back to? She hadn't had much chance to talk to Rachel or Dean, Dean too busy thrilling the gathered family with tales as life as an islander. She wasn't quite sure what to make of the attorney, though she couldn't wait to hear how Will reacted to finding out his lover was, in fact, still alive. Apparently Rachel's publisher was sending a chartered plane for her in the morning, and Dean was going to leave with her.
Keller's thoughts were brought back to Mia when she heard the girl begin to speak in her mother's native tongue.
Mia blushed at the most unkind names being sent her way through the phone lines. When the old woman took a breath, she spoke. "Grandma, it's Mia."
Lizbeth, yet again about to slam the phone down, stopped, at first from the Italian spoken back to her, then from the voice, then lastly from the name. She stopped dead in her tracks, stunned, and feeling as though her heart had stopped beating. When her voice returned to her, it was barely a whisper. "You are a cruel demon to play this trick."
"It's no trick, grandmamma, I swear." Mia felt a smile spread across her lips at the sound of her great-grandmother's voice; that much closer to her mother. "We survived the crash, grandmamma."
"I do not understand." Lizbeth slowly fell to a nearby chair, hand gripping the handset for dear life, the other grasping the small, gold crucifix around her neck. Surely this had to be a trick. Surely.
"We were rescued today," Mia said, her voice growing thick with rising emotions, images of her great-grandmother and mother swimming before her eyes. "They found us, finally."
"But," Lizbeth was trying to wrap her mind around this, her eyes beginning to sting as moisture gathered, hands shaking. "they said…"
"I know." Mia smiled through her tears.
"Oh, Mia! Mia, Mia, where are you, child?!" Lizbeth lightened her hold on the crucifix, feeling the strain she was putting on the chain with her suddenly desperate hold. "Thank God!" She looked to the Heavens, only seeing the water stain in the corner above the bookcase. "Oh, Mia!"
"Where's mom, grandmamma? They said," the girl was suddenly afraid to finish her sentence. What if it had all been one big lie, and Lizbeth and Paolo were now living in their dead granddaughter's apartment? Those thoughts were cut off by the older woman's next words.
"She's at work, my child."
Mia gasped. So it was true! "She's alive?"
"Oh, yes, child, though barely." The older woman was running around the apartment now, grunting as she threw on her clothes, trying to see through her tears of relief and joy. Managed to climb into the dress she'd so carefully removed earlier, she nearly dropped the phone, sliding a gout-swollen foot into her shoe.
"Oh, child, your Mamma will be so happy!" Lizbeth Vinzetti almost forgot to lock the door on her way out.
Gloria sighed heavily. It had been a long day, and just seemed to be getting longer, though her shift at the diner would end in less than two hours. It might as well have been a lifetime. She began to softly hum to herself, figuring if she had to concentrate on the tune, she'd be able to stay awake.
The waitress knew she was slowly killing herself, working fifteen hour days five days a week, then any overtime she could get on her days off. She couldn't stand being home, even though she was thrilled to have her Nonna at home waiting for her. The problem was, home wasn't home anymore. Something had died inside her the day of the crash, and Gloria felt a cold presence inside of her, slowly taking over until there was nothing left but a woman in her mid-thirties, grown old before her time.
"Yeah, Joe?" the dark-eyed woman called from the back room, where she was chopping tomatoes for a salad that was ordered.
"Someone here for ya!"
Dark brows drawn, Gloria set down her knife and wiped her hands on a towel. She had absolutely no idea who would be coming into work to see her. The answer wasn't long in arriving.
"Gloria!" Lizbeth yelled, trying to push past the man who refused to allow her into the back kitchen. Didn't he understand what was happening?! She hissed at him in Italian, his face registering only confusion and anger.
"Nonna," Gloria said, shocked to see her grandmother standing there, and in her slippers, no less! "What are you doing here?"
"Take this!" Lizbeth held out the cell phone she'd clutched to her chest the entire three block sprint to the diner. The seventy-seven year old heart was pounding wildly.
Gloria stepped out from around the breakfast counter, leading the old woman away from prying ears, just in case Lizbeth Vinzetti was starting to lose her cotton pickin' mind. "Nonna," Gloria near whispered, trying to keep her anger in check. "you ran here in your house shoes for a phone call?"
"You must take this, my child. Here! Take it." She shoved the phone at her granddaughter, the fire never burning so bright in Lizbeth's eyes. That intrigued Gloria, though she still felt her grandmother was losing her marbles.
Taking the tiny phone, Gloria put it to her ear. "This is Gloria," she heard a sniffled, then a miracle.
"Mom? It's me!"
Gloria stood stock still, her mind trying to catch up with what she'd just heard. It can't be. "Who is this?" Her voice was low and deep, filled with warning.
"It's me, Mia. I'm okay. I'm coming home in the morning."
Gloria felt tears of grief sting behind her eyelids. She sat on a stool at the breakfast counter. "You are one cruel monster to play such a game."
Mia felt her heart pounding, both in elation that her mother was truly alive, and deep disappointment at the lack of reaction she'd hoped for. Tears at the hardness in Gloria's voice were streaming down the girl's cheeks. Before she knew what had happened, the phone was taken from her.
"Gloria? This is Keller."
Gloria gasped at the sound of the pilot's voice. Hope was beginning to trickle into her anger.
"I have Mia sitting here beside me, and she's one upset kid who needs her mom."
"Keller? I don't understand,"
"She's alive, Gloria," Keller said, her voice softening, filled with understanding.
"We stopped looking," Gloria whispered, a trembling hand coming to her mouth. So overwhelmed, she didn't even noticed the small group of curious co-workers and diner regulars that had begun to gather, a proud Lizbeth standing in the middle of it.
"Well, uh," Keller picked shyly at her jeans, "Yeah, about that,"
"I don't care! Give me my baby back!" Gloria tugged her phone from her ear. "My baby's alive!" She was all out crying now. "Mia? Honey, are you there?"
"I'm here, Mamma," the girl sobbed, cradling the phone against her ear. She heard her mother's sob at the endearment Mia hadn't used since she was a small child. She felt like a small child again, lost utterly vulnerable.
Garrison pushed off the wall she'd been leaning against, watching, arms crossed over her chest. She couldn't keep the smile off her lips, feeling like she and Keller had participated in the most important even of their lives. She caught her partner's eye, and waved Keller over to her, giving Mia privacy. The tall pilot hurried over to her, taking the blonde in her arms and burying her face in the familiar hair.
"I've never for so happy in my life," Keller whispered, feeling Garrison's nod of agreement. "You should go to bed, baby. You and Duke have an early morning."
"I know." Garrison rested her head against Keller's shoulder, sighing in contentment at the peace that filled her.
"Come on." Kissing the blonde head, Keller pulled away, taking Garrison by the hand and leading her toward the basement, where Duke had set up a room for them.
Rachel sat cross-legged on the foldout couch, which was to be her bed for the night, still trying to adjust to the softness beneath her. At first contact, it had felt wonderful, but her back and skeletal structure wasn't sure what to make of the foreign feeling of padding and luxury. Sleeping and sitting on hard ground for more than a year had been hard on her body, and Rachel could already feel the effects. She felt almost as though she'd been running around without stopping for two days, too busy to feel the strain on her bones and muscles, then suddenly stopping, finally feeling the true state of her aches and pains.
Grimacing as she tried to get comfortable, the blonde laid back, hands behind her head. She stared up at the ceiling, thinking of what would happen within the next eight hours. Reenie had called the author back within an hour after they hung up, bearing news that a chartered plane would be ready for take off at six in the morning. She, Dean and Mia would all be on board, headed north.
Thoughts of her return to society quickly bled into thoughts of Denny. She wished so badly the brunette was with her, holding her. She thought about their night on the ledge for the first time since they'd been interrupted with the sighting of the plane. If she closed her eyes, she could still feel Denny's hands on her body, her mouth, and could still hear the brunette's soft, sensuous words. Never in her life had she been so affected by one single person, and in so many ways: emotionally, physically and at a soul level that took Rachel's breath away. She'd never known the kind of longing and loneliness that plagued her, feeling Denny's absence acutely.
When the brunette had insisted that she leave the island, Rachel's first instinct was to feel hurt, but then, looking into the profoundly sad blue eyes, she began to understand, and could only comply. They had to let go, had to go back to their regularly scheduled lives, and Denny was trying to make it as quick and painless as possible. Quick, for certain. Painless, not in this lifetime.
Turning over to her side, Rachel curled her hands up under her chin, staring at the furniture that had been moved aside to make room for the bed to fold out, the blonde didn't see the end or coffee tables in front of her. Instead, she saw the brilliance of Denny's eyes, and heard the soft, velvet voice that had come to mean so much more than just mere comfort. Rachel's heart hurt, a burning inside that she felt could consume her.
Rachel forced her thoughts away from Denny, far too painful to be her bedmate. Instead she made herself face the reality in front of her, and decide what needed to be done. She saw Matt in her mind's eye. She knew in her heart that their marriage was over, and she needed to let him go. She, too, needed to be free and explore her own heart. Rachel couldn't think of what direction it might go without thinking of Denny, so she concentrated on the rest of her future, instead. She had a clean slate, could go wherever she wanted. Well, if she had any money, she could.
That thought scared her. From the little Reenie had said, the blonde had been left destitute. She knew that she had a place to go, Reenie would never leave her to fend for herself, but still, Rachel was a fiercely independent woman, and needed to be alone to think and explore her own heart. Staying with someone, even her best friend, did not appeal. Maybe she should find her own damn island somewhere and rot all by herself.
"Can I ask you something, Denny?" Pam asked after almost an hour of lying in the dark, attempting to get her body and mind to shut down enough to allow sleep.
"Sure." Denny was suffering from the same thing, thoughts, wanted and unwanted, continuously marching through her brain.
"What happened with you and Rachel?" The vet glanced over to her right, where she could just barely make out the outline of Denny's profile.
The coffee shop owner sighed, bringing her hands up to rest her head upon. What happened, indeed. "I fell in love with her."
"And what about her?" Pam had already known that much; you couldn't look at those two together and not see it, or feel the bond between them.
"Yeah. I think so." Denny really didn't want to talk about it. She was about to say as much when Pam spoke first.
"Why did you send her away? Why not give it a go?"
"Pam, it's not that simple. She has a husband, I have Hannah." She studied the shadow that was her friend, then turned back to study the solid darkness of thatched leaves. "I'm sure what happened was a direct consequence of our situation. Back home," she shrugged, "who knows. We may not even have felt the same way."
Pam snorted. "Doubt that." She was about to continue when they heard something just outside their shelter. There was a ruffling sound, then the flap was pulled back, a looming figure in the opening.
"Sorry if I scared ya, ladies," Michael said in a whisper. He felt stupid as he continued to stand there. Swallowing his pride, he spoke again. "Do y'all mind if I join ya? Kinda lonely over there, ya know…"
Denny smiled, utterly charmed by the Texan. "Come on in, Michael. We've got plenty of room." Denny scooted over to make room for the big guy, the three settling in once more, finding silence. The brunette was amazed at just how cold it felt without Rachel pressed against her. She loved holding the blonde, loved the feel of her body, her warmth and smell. They seemed to fit together so perfectly, like two pieces cut from the same puzzle. As cheesy and clichéd as it seemed to Denny, it was the truest truth she'd ever known.
Denny turned her thoughts to home, and what she'd find when she got back. She wasn't sure how she'd be able to face Hannah, knowing in her heart that the researcher no longer held the spotlight as the light of her life. All the same, she would have to resign herself to the fact that what she and Rachel had briefly shared had been a wonderful experience, but could be nothing more.
Closing her eyes, Denny felt a single tear lazily trail down her cheek to settle in her ear, making her shiver.
"Please take care of yourself," Garrison whispered into her hug with Dean. "Will would kill us if anything happened to you before you get home."
The attorney smiled, gently pulling away. He gave the blonde a kiss on the cheek and a blinding smile. "Thank you, Garrison. It seems like such a simple, completely under whelming phrase, but it's the best I can do on such short notice."
Garrison chuckled, reaching up to palm the man's clean-shaven cheek. "Tell him hello for us, ‘kay?"
Dean nodded. "Will do."
Garrison turned to see Rachel walking toward her, the pilot immediately taking her into her arms for a quick hug. Parker had been beside herself, able to spend time with the famous writer. The teen was a bit of a writer herself, but just hadn't been able to find the confidence within herself to truly explore her creative world. Seeing a real, flesh and blood author, who had been able to make a life of writing, Parker was edging toward her dream. Garrison chuckled when she went in to wake Parker up so the girl could say goodbye to everyone, and she had a signed copy of Rachel's novel clutched to her chest.
"Thank you so much, Garrison. Without you and Keller, I don't know if we ever would have made it back."
"It was certainly my pleasure, Rachel." The pilot looked into troubled green eyes. She had no idea what lay beyond the pained expression, but hoped the author could work through it. Perhaps finally going home would help.
Keller stood back, watching the last of the goodbyes with a broad smile. One by one, the survivors boarded the plane. She put her arm around Garrison's shoulder, feeling her partner's head rest on her shoulder. The door was pulled into place, the plane sealed up and readied for takeoff. Neither pilot could find the words to express how she felt, seeing the first wave of the rescued returning to their lives. They'd cried along with Duke and his family, and the three islanders as they'd re-connected with their loved ones over the phone. Only Dean didn't make a call, which had been difficult for the attorney. He had paced the house, glancing at every phone he passed.
"Truly amazing," Garrison said at long last.
"Yeah. You ready to go back out?"
"Definitely. I wish you could go with us." The blonde sighed, squeezing Keller before letting her go.
"Me, too. We'll be waiting here for you." She gave Garrison a quick kiss and wishes of good luck, watching as the blonde walked over to Duke, ready to go out for round two. Keller turned back toward the rising sun, its brilliance catching her eyes and making them glow. She watched the small plane purr its way along the tarmac, taxiing into position. She couldn't help but wonder what lie ahead for the occupants. How could they possibly return to life as normal after what they'd been through? Mia had stayed on the phone with her mother late into the night, laughing, crying, and reacquainting.
As Keller walked over to Duke's truck, ready to head back to his house where Parker was very likely still asleep, she wished she could be a fly on the wall, watching what would undoubtedly be very emotional reunions.
Denny slicked her hair back from her face, bringing the long, wet rope of hair over her shoulder to wring it out. As the cold droplets ran down over her front, making her gasp slightly, she took in all that surrounded her. The colors, vibrancy and island had become old hat after so long, the brunette no longer seeing the beauty that was her world. Now, knowing that it would all be gone soon, she saw it again through new eyes, trying to memorize every detail, every memory, every bit of luscious growth and natural song.
It had been a restless night for all three of them, each lost in what would be once they returned to their lives, as well as reliving what had gotten them there in the first place. Denny was woken up more than once by nightmares that she hadn't had in nearly a year. Again, she'd found herself strapped in that seat, submerged under millions of gallons of water, and heading into black depths.
Feeling as though she were suffocating, the brunette had woken with a loud gasp, frantically trying to get to the surface, only to find strong arms wrapped around her, and a deep, comforting voice in her ear. It's alright, darlin'. I got'cha.
It had taken nearly an hour for her heart to calm, and the visions to leave her mind. She remembered the screams of panic and fear as the plane had been heading toward the water, the fear rising up like sour bile in her throat.
Denny climbed up to the ledge to allow her skin to dry in the air, which was already warming. She stared up into the sky, just burgeoning with color. She'd never look into such a pure sky again, and that made her sad. She thought about her hustle and bustle world back in New York, and wondered if she'd ever truly be able to rejoin that, knowing what it was like to take life in stride, in no hurry, as it made things happen no sooner. On the island she'd learned to relish smells, textures and sights. She'd learned that when beauty was ignored, it seldom came around a second time. A bird, filled with color and inspiring awe, if not studied and appreciated in the moment, it would fly away, perhaps never to be seen again. She'd even caught Dean daydreaming now and then.
Hearing a bird's early call, Denny thought about music for some reason. That was one thing she couldn't wait to get back to. Such a simple thing, but one that had always been singularly important to the brunette. She couldn't sing, had no talents in playing an instrument, but it had been a part of her soul since she'd been a small child, and not a day went by that she didn't spent at least a few hours filling her soul's need for it. She had found herself humming or singing softly to herself throughout the duration of her stay on the island. It would calm and sooth frazzled nerves, or ease her bouts of homesickness.
Lying on the ledge, Denny knew she was a short time away from returning to all that was normal and conditioned to her. She felt a nervous flutter in her stomach, various luxuries floating before her mind's eye, things she looked forward to getting back to, using or tasting. Or hearing. Her beloved MP3 player had gone down with the plane, a fact that almost saddened her more than losing her contact lenses. The brunette chuckled at that. She certainly wouldn't miss the eye-strain headaches.
Michael tossed another pebble into the incoming surf, his other wrist dangling on his bent knee. The sun had come up, and a new, fresh day was upon them. Now what? Did he go fish for breakfast? Climb a tree and make it a cocoanut and berry morning? How much time and effort before the plane came back? Was it coming back?
It had been a long night, thinking about his kids, and wondering how they'd managed without either of their parents. No doubt they'd gone to Melissa's parents, which was a good place for them. The mechanic was worried about his youngest, who was sometimes unnaturally attached to his mother. How had he handled the news that she was gone?
Michael truly had no idea how to relate to his children with their mother dead. She had always been the buffer, the nucleus of their family, and the one they all revolved around. Now what? And how could Michael face his kids, beat down with the guilt that he had survived and Melissa had not? How did he explain that to them? To Mel's parents? To the world? Had he tried hard enough? Had he fought the water and situation enough, or had he done something horribly wrong, allowing her to die?
Bringing up a large hand, the Texan wiped it across his grizzled face before absently tugging at his beard. He couldn't get that thing off too soon. He wasn't keen on the mountain man look. He had to grin as he imagined that being the first thing Dean had done when he got back to civilization. He was happy for his friend that Will had never given up. Michael wondered if could have had the same tenacity, had it been Melissa. Or would he have just rolled over in saddened resignation? He hoped to one day meet the man who kept Dean going. A strange thought, for sure. Michael never thought about no man being banged by another guy, and saw queers as the sexual perverts they were perceived and portrayed as being. But one look into the tortured soul of Dean, and the mechanic realized that just maybe there was more to it than that. Just maybe the two men felt about each other as he felt for Melissa.
The whole world had turned upside down. Certainly Michael's. The thought was barely let loose in his head when he heard the familiar droning of engines. Pushing to his feet, he walked out toward the water's edge, raising his hand to his eyes, trying to figure which way the plane was coming in from.
"I am not looking forward to getting on that plane," Pam said softly as she stepped up beside him. He grunted in agreement. The seaplane made a magnificent splash as it touched down, then threw waves of water behind it as it cruised in. Soon they were joined by Denny.
"Guess this is it," she said softly, feeling Pam take her hand in her own.
"Yeah. Guess so."
"I sure am gonna miss you gals," Michael admitted, watching as the plane slowed, the body surging gently over the waves it had created.
"Same here." Denny turned to the other two, smiling as they all came in together for a tight group hug. The brunette felt her stomach roiling in waves of nervous excitement.
"Hello!" Garrison yelled as she stepped out onto the floater above the wheel. Her wave was returned by three more. Once again, she found herself wading through the water toward the island, able to focus more on her surroundings this time. It was beautiful, no doubt, but she just couldn't wrap her mind around trying to survive with nothing more than nature and your own wits. "Are you all ready to head back to civilization?" she asked, splashing onto the shore.
"Hell, yes!" Pam said, taking the pilot in a hearty hug.
"Well, let's get you all home. There are some happy reunions taking place as we speak." Garrison was grinning from ear to ear, thinking that the other three had probably landed in New York no more than forty minutes ago.
As they all piled in, Denny looked out the window. It was so strange to see the island from the other side of the glass. When she looked at the white beach, she didn't see sand and incoming surf: she saw their almost daily game of cocoanut ball, or their nightly campfire. She saw Dean prancing around in his sarong, finally clean and ready to tell their limited world about it. She saw Michael's red face every time he had to use the food masher. She saw Pam's easy smile and the way she had mothered all of them through the most trying times of their lives. She saw Mia's laughter and tears, and Rachel's lovely eyes and deep insights into the psychology of humanity. She saw them as a family, a unit and bonded for life in a way no one back home could ever understand.
Pam braced herself as the plane was moving, swallowing hard to keep her newly acquired fear of flying in check. Though she wished they could have sent a boat to get them, she knew it was a necessary evil. Her knuckles were white as she grasped the armrests.
"It's gonna be okay," Michael whispered from behind her. She nodded, though simply for response than because she believed it.
Once they were in the air, Garrison turned around from the co-pilot seat. She pushed a blue and white cooler back until it bumped against Denny's bare foot. "Figured you guys may want something other than fish." She grinned, then turned back front.
Denny reached down, unlatching the white, plastic lid, her mouth watering at what she saw inside. She held up a can of gloriously cold Coca-Cola, looking back for any takers. Michael nearly jumped out of his seat as he reached over to take it. She handed an identical can to Pam, taking a bottle of orange juice for herself. The turkey and cheese sandwiches were accepted with relief as everyone dug in.
"Welcome back, gang!" Garrison called back over the roar of the engines.
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