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
by Kim PritekelPart 3
“Frazier here,” the detective said, holding a bullet casing up to his eye with latex-clad fingers.
“Matt, Captain Washington needs you back at precinct ASAP,” Regina Mason, front desk clerk, said.
Matt lost interest in the casing for a moment, brows drawing. “Did she say why?”
“Nope. Just told me to give you the message.”
“Okay. I can be there in about half an hour.”
“Okey doke. I’ll let her know.”
“Thanks, Reggie.” Matt snapped his phone closed and slipped it into the holster clipped to his belt. “Hey, Burt,” he called out to his partner, who was talking to a member of the coroner’s office. “I need to head back to the office right quick. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Matt trotted across the street to his car, buckling himself in before merging the sedan into traffic. In a way he was grateful for the reprieve, no matter how brief, as his mind was not on his job at the moment, and the victim lying dead on the sidewalk didn’t deserve that. He hadn’t heard from his wife in five days, and though he wasn’t worried about her as he knew she’d be fine, he was worried about his marriage. She hadn’t called him, even if for nothing more than to yell and scream at him. Oh, how he wished she’d do that, but knew better. Rachel was an introvert, and lived inside her own head and emotions. So often he’d wish she’d let him in, and she never would. Though he wasn’t about to blame his infidelity on her, sometimes he wondered if maybe the distance she insisted on keeping from the rest of the world, even her own husband, hadn’t helped things, either.
Matt popped a stick of gum into his mouth, hating the taste of stale cigarettes, as he pushed through the front doors of the police department. He waved and called out a greeting to the ladies working in the office then headed back into the maze of the inner workings of Madison PD, Madison, Oregon.
“Come in,” Captain Peggy Washington called out, phone receiver in her hand with fingers poised over the keypad to punch in her home number. She needed to make sure her son had picked up his little sister from soccer practice. She glanced up as her office door was pushed open, Detective Matt Frazier popping his head around the corner. “Oh, Matt. Come in.” Peggy set the receiver back in its cradle. Her son could wait.
“What’s up, Cap?” Matt asked, plopping down in one of the two chairs set in front of the metal desk of his superior. He flung an ankle over his knee, jiggling his dangling foot, a nervous habit he’d always had. Drove Rachel crazy.
Peggy sighed heavily, leaning forward with her elbows on her desk blotter. She looked the detective in the eye. She’d known Matt Frazier since his first day at the academy, where she’d taught a self-defense class. He was a good guy, and she hated being the one to tell him the news, but the Chief had insisted, knowing Frazier liked and respected her.
“I’ve got some bad news for you, Matt,” she began softly, the mother of four in her coming out.
“Okay.” Matt could feel his heart beginning to pound, and his brain whirred, trying to mentally go over everything he’d done in the last six months, confused.
“You had Burt Langley find some information on your wife, about her whereabouts-“
“Oh, Peggy, I didn’t think-“
Captain Washington held up a hand to silence him. “Matt, the plane your wife was on went down somewhere in the Caribbean.”
Matt stared at the woman with short, curly red hair, blinking several times as the words slowly penetrated his brain. He swallowed, feeling a coldness rush through him, making him shiver.
“I’m so sorry, Matt.” Peggy met his gaze and held it, trying to make sure he was okay. Matt nodded, but his jaw muscles were working overtime. “I think it’s best you take some time off.”
“No. Uh,” Matt pushed up from the chair. “I need to get back-“
“Detective, I am ordering you to go home, at least until Monday. Okay?”
“Alright.” Matt left the office, his stomach roiling suddenly. He headed for the bathroom, almost not making it before he lost the meatball sandwich he and Burt had for lunch.
The house had seemed dark and empty before, but now, now it just felt… dead. Matt ran a hand through his hair, his eyes burning with unshed emotion. He still felt sick, chewing three pieces of gum on the way home alone, to get the taste of regurgitated meatball sandwich out of his mouth.
Tossing his keys and wallet to the breakfast bar, the detective walked on shaky legs to the living room, noting that the answering machine blinked with eight messages. He didn’t have the heart to listen to them, not wanting to talk to anyone. Besides, he knew none of them would be from Rachel.
Matt fell to the Lazy-Boy chair in front of the TV, head in his hands, shoulders finally heaving as his grief and deep regret hit him between the eyes. She can’t be dead. She can’t! Somewhere through his grief, he heard the phone ring, the answering machine picking up on the third ring.
“Hi, you’ve reached Rachel and Matt. Please leave a message. Bye.” Rachel’s voice pierced his heart once more.
“Matt, this is Reenie again. It’s imperative that you call me right away.” Matt could hear the emotion, the editor’s voice thick and nasal. She’d obviously been crying. “Please call me today.”
The dead air was heavy and filled with expectation. Matt didn’t want to talk to her right now. Why hadn’t she told her Rachel’s flight number, damn it!? How could she have withheld that from him? Matt’s tears returned. He knew he was being unfair; none of this was Reenie’s fault, it was all him. Raising his face to the ceiling, he squeezed his eyes shut, crying out his grief to the night beyond.
Naomi rested her cheek against the top of Will’s head, where it rested just under her chin. The architect had his arm slung over her stomach, her fingers running through his hair. Together they watched the newscast of the crash, now on every channel. It was amazing, and unheard of. The plane had crashed in the middle of the Caribbean, yet three people had been rescued, one half dead, the other two badly wounded, but alive.
“That’s amazing,” Naomi whispered, eyes riveted to the footage. She felt her brother-in-law nod, though it was followed by a sniffle. None of the three people were Dean. The camera showed the three arriving in New York, a crowd mobbing them, then flickered to individual reunions. An older couple enveloped a woman with short, black hair, the trio crying. The older man was then on camera speaking in Italian, his words translated closed caption-style at the bottom of the screen:
I’m so grateful to get my granddaughter back. I’m just greatly saddened by the loss of our great-granddaughter.
Another woman was being wheeled in a wheelchair by a man, who was smiles from ear to ear. Two young children flanked the wheelchair.
“It’s a miracle!” the man said, voice cracking. “I couldn’t believe it when the phone rang, and it was Candice on the other end.”
An official was flashed on screen. “The investigation has already been started, the rescue mission sadly turning to a recovery mission. Divers are now trying to locate the black box.”
Naomi and Will shut the TV off as the newscaster began to explain what the black box was, and how it worked. Will stared off into space, fantasizing, not for the first time, that one of the survivors had in fact been Dean, and he had been on the other end of that phone call.
“Want to hear something strange?” he said at length, voice soft, wistful.
“Hmm?” Naomi brushed hair away from Will’s boyish features. If you had been straight…
“Somehow I feel like I’d know if Dean were dead. I know that sounds crazy, and extremely full of fantasy, but…”
“You don’t feel that he is?”
Dean was quiet for a moment, contemplating that, mulling it over and over in his head. Finally he shook his head. “No. No doubt it’s just simple wishful thinking, but somehow I don’t feel it.”
“Well, you guys do have an amazing connection, Will.” Naomi thought about her brother and the man she’d been holding for two days now. The architect was beyond distraught, and no doubt felt Dean’s loss more acutely than anyone. Since the first day Dean had brought Will home to meet everyone, Naomi had seen the specialness of the men’s relationship and bond. It truly was something to behold. Though Naomi had no doubt Dean was gone, she also had no doubt Will could still feel him. Hell, maybe her brother was around them right now, and that was why Will’s feeling was so strong.
The reunion was an emotional one- not a reunion of friends, but a gathering of strangers, reuniting with humanity, though Denny was almost beside herself to see Mia step out from under the overturned slide. She hugged the girl tight, not having to ask about the teenager’s mother. Mia’s tears told her all she needed to know.
“I can’t believe there are so many of us,” Dean said, eyeing everyone, his methodical mind already forming thoughts and impressions of each woman before him. “Where were you guys all sitting?” He looked from one to another, finally settling back on Denny.
“Up in 5C. Mia and I were right behind First Class,” the brunette explained softly. Rachel was listening, arms crossed over her chest. Looking at Denny, she realized that she had remembered seeing her on the plane, though briefly. She also felt like she’d noticed her in the terminal.
“I was in First Class,” Pam said, leaning against a rock face.
“Me, too,” the blonde said softly.
“Well, I was back about halfway, not quite to the wing.”
“Good thing,” Denny said, pushing some wind blown strands behind her ear. “Any further back and you would have been gone.”
Dean nodded sagely. “I know. We were all lucky.”
Pam looked away, remembering her boyfriend sitting next to her one minute, then gone the next, sucked out, as no doubt many of the passengers were. The air was heavy with bad memories and grief. Mia began to sob softly.
“So!” Dean said, needing to change the subject and mood. He clapped his hands together. “Where is everyone from?”
“Buffalo,” Pam said, munching on the bananas Denny had provided.
The brunette nodded. “Me, too.”
“Brooklyn,” Mia near whispered.
“My partner and I have a loft in Manhattan,” Dean supplied.
Rachel smirked. “Guess I’m the only non-New Yorker here.” All eyes were on her. She felt shy under the full attention. “Oregon.”
“You were far from home,” Dean said, brow raised. The blonde looked away, nodding. Me thinks there’s a story there.
“So how is everyone holding up? Injuries?” Pam looked around, noting various bumps and bruises on everyone except Dean. She’d also noted the way the beautiful brunette seemed to hold her right arm to her body. The veterinarian walked over to her. “Let me get a look at your arm, Denny.”
“Oh, we have our very own mother hen on the island,” Dean grinned, gesturing wildly. Rachel glanced at him, then turned to watch Pam and Denny, Pam murmuring various questions, Denny’s responses soft. She wondered if Pam had some sort of medical knowledge; she seemed to know what she was doing. Next thing she knew, the older woman led the brunette around behind a wall of foliage.
Denny sucked in a breath at the white hot pain that shot through her arm as she tried to pull her sleeve off around it. With Pam’s help, she was finally able to, standing before the older woman in her bra. Pam studied the arm and shoulder, grazing gentle fingers over the discolored flesh.
“Denny, I think this is dislocated,” Pam said, glancing up into the brunette’s glacier eyes. “I really need to set it.”
Denny swallowed loudly, but nodded. It couldn’t hurt anymore than it already did.
“Okay, honey, here we go.” Pam stepped up close to Denny’s side, one hand wrapping around Denny’s forearm, the other steadying the coffee shop owner on her shoulder.
Birds squawked and flew out of the trees as a cry echoed over the island, startling both animal and human occupants. Three sets of eyes stared into the thick foliage. They glanced at each other, then back to the direction the cry came from. Rachel shivered, feeling the pain that cry carried. Though one good thing, she realized, there were birds on the island. She just hoped they came back!
Denny tried to catch her breath, a soft hand rubbing circles on her upper back, Pam whispering words of apology. She took a shaky breath, then got herself together. She barely understood as the older woman explained she was going to try and make something to use as a sling for her arm. She left the brunette leaning safely against a thick grouping of undergrowth as she sought out to find some vines.
Denny felt the pain slowly washing over her in lapping waves, much like those on the beach. She closed her eyes, taking in lungfulls of the freshest air she’d ever had, strongly scented with the salt and wildlife of the sea. She felt queasy, though couldn’t afford to lose any of the food she’d already taken in, so instead she just stayed put, holding her arm in the exact same position Pam had put it, keeping it close to her side, her left hand holding tight to her elbow.
“Is she okay?” Mia asked as Pam emerged from the foliage, eyes already scanning the beach.
“Yeah. Had to reset her shoulder,” the vet explained absently. “Does anyone have a knife?” she called out, glancing over to where Rachel and Dean stood, both just looking at her. Of course they would have to get stranded in a post 9/11 world, where nothing sharper than a comb’s tooth was allowed on board.
“In my checked luggage,” Dean said helpfully. Pam glared, then stopped, staring at him. “What? It was a joke.” He watched as the woman approached him, noting the look in her eye, and wanting to take a step back from her.
“Give me that,” she said, pointing. The man looked down, confused. Pam reached for his thick, Armani belt, unbuckling it. Her hands were covered with his, trying to push her away.
“Hey!” He hadn’t had a woman try and undress him since Mary Taylor when they were seventeen. Oh, what a disaster that had been. “Did you hit your head, or something?”
“I need your belt!”
“What?! This is a two hundred dollar Armani belt!” Dean was even more pissed, slapping at Pam’s hands, stumbling back in his haste to get away from her.
“Yeah, well now it’s a two hundred dollar sling.”
“I don’t think so!” He looked at her, incredulous. She expected him to give up his belt for a frigging sling? No way! “Keep your damn hands off me, woman.”
Thoroughly angry at the little pipsqueak’s selfishness, Pam stalked over to him, taking his shirt in her fist. “List to me, and listen good, Dean,” she said within inches of his face, eyes hard. “We’re stuck here, all of us, and we have got to cooperate with each other. Do you understand me?”
“Guys!” They both looked to see Denny standing a few feet away, still holding her arm. “This isn’t worth fighting over. Pam, we can find something else, vines or my shirt or something. Don’t beat the guy up over it.”
Rachel stared at the brunette, noting she stood there in her jeans and a bra. Her shoulder looked ugly- bruised and badly swollen. Dried blood was caked to a bad gouge on her upper arm, near her shoulder. Looking down at her own attire, she felt guilt sweep over her.
“Here.” Walking over to Pam, the blonde held out her hand, her own brown leather belt dangling from her hand. The older woman looked down at it, then smiled up into amused green eyes.
“Thank you, Rachel.” Glaring over her shoulder at Dean, she took the offering, then walked over to Denny.
“Thank you,” Denny said through nearly gritted teeth as the woman tethered her arm to her body. The blonde nodded. Denny still couldn’t believe the author was one of the survivors, and was taken aback by the color of her eyes. The magazine pictures hadn’t done her any justice at all. She watched as the blonde turned away, looking out over the ocean before sitting on a small grouping of boulders.
Dean glared at the older woman, his gaze traveling over the winkled, ruined shirt she wore, which clung to her slightly over-weight frame. He took in the rough, calloused hands that made sure the belt was tight around the brunette, snorting derisively. “Bitch,” he muttered, walking in the opposite direction Rachel had, arms crossed over his chest.
Oh boy. Denny watched the scene unfolding before her, and had no desire to be the cause for problems already. They’d all been together for a whopping fifteen minutes, and already clashes were arising. This wouldn’t do. Glancing up at Pam, she met her gaze.
“You know, we’re all pretty messed up here, Pam,” she began softly. “I think we all need to have some patience with each other.”
The veterinarian met the striking blue eyes of the woman she was just about finished making a splint for, then blew out a breath, returning her gaze to the duty at hand. “He needs to learn that we all need to work together to get through this,” she said softly, yet her voice was firm. Denny said nothing more; all she felt needed to be conveyed, she’d said. Why beat a dead horse?
“How does that feel?” Pam asked, looking at her handy work. The arm and shoulder had been stabilized against the brunette’s own body.
“It hurts like a bitch, to be quite honest, but it’ll have to do.” Denny took several deep breaths, trying to get her head out of the cotton it was in. She almost wondered if she would have been better off just to leave her arm as it had been. At least she’d gotten used to the pain.
“Where are we going to sleep tonight?” Mia asked from behind Pam. Both the doctor and Denny looked at her. “It was so cold last night.” Dark eyes looked between one to the other.
“Good question, kid,” Denny muttered. She’d only been able to get sporadic sleep the night before, shivering as the island cooled down immensely from the hot, humid heat of the day. “That breeze off the ocean can be brutal.”
“Everybody gather round!” Pam called out, clapping her hands. Mia glanced at Denny, who shrugged her one good shoulder, then winced at the movement. Pam waited until she had everyone’s attention. Meeting everyone’s eyes, even the still-angry Dean, she began to bark out orders. “Dean, gather wood so we can make a fire. Rachel, start gathering food and Denny, help her by making some sort of container to keep it all in. Mia, you and I are going to start gathering materials to make some sort of shelter.” Again the vet clapped her hands, everyone just staring at her. “Let’s go!”
Rachel looked at the older woman, disbelieving. Does she think she’s talking to a group of five year olds? Dean voiced the blonde’s thoughts.
“Excuse me, but I’m not your kid, and you’d do well to remember that.” Who the hell does she think she is?
Denny watched like she was watching a tennis match, a feeling that she needed to intervene creeping up on her. Voices were beginning to raise, disturbing yet more birds.
“Alright!” she cried, stepping between the veterinarian and attorney, who had stepped closer to each other. “Let’s stop this before you two scare away our dinner.” She looked from one to the other. “Dean, would you please gather some wood? We’re all going to freeze tonight if we can’t make a fire. I’d do it myself but,” the brunette glanced down at her injured arm. The attorney glared one last time at Pam, then turned kinder eyes to Denny. He nodded. “Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.” The brunette looked into Dean’s eyes, thinking she may very well recognize a kindred spirit. Dean seemed to feel it, too, giving her a small smile, then turned and disappeared into the foliage. “And be careful!” Denny called after him.
Rachel watched, her anger turning to amused surprise. She watched Dean melt right before her eyes, hurrying off to do the brunette’s bidding. Green eyes flicked to Pam to see that she, too had softened her stance, but only just a little. The older woman, so obviously used to being in charge, was no doubt seething as that control was whipped right out from underneath her. Rachel watched as Pam headed off, taking Mia with her, leaving Denny and the author alone on the beach.
“That was pretty slick,” the blonde said, a smile in her voice. Denny smiled, almost shyly, as she made her way over to the author.
“Yeah, well it won’t do us any good if everyone’s fighting and angry. This isn’t an episode of Survivor.”
Rachel nodded. “You did good.”
“Thanks.” Denny felt her stomach knotting, feeling strange to be standing on there talking with a New York Times best-selling author. “Listen, um, I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others, but,” she shifted her shoe in the sand. “I think you’re an amazing talent.” Shy blue eyes rose to meet twinkling green.
“Thank you, Denny. I appreciate that.” Rachel’s smile was soft. She looked with concern at the brunette’s arm. “Are you going to be able to do this? If you need to just sit down…”
“No. I’ll be okay. I’ve got another one.” Denny wiggled the fingers of her left hand and flapped her arm like a bird. The blonde chuckled, making her smile. “Come on. Let’s get dinner and make an island-style fridge.”
Michael grunted, then instinctively reached out, trying to keep his hold. His eyes opened, burning from the lids being so badly sunburned. Again he gripped the edge of his raft with a death grip. Looking around, he realized they’d managed to catch a nasty bunch of waves. Hearing a sliding sound, the Texan glanced to his right.
“Mel!” Michael flung himself over to where his wife’s body was sliding down the slope of the metal, quickly disappearing beneath the surface of the unforgiving sea. “No!” The mechanic reached down, desperate to try and catch his wife’s hand, part of her shirt, something. She was gone. Slamming a large fist into the metal, Michael cried out like a wounded animal, yet again. As he stared down into the inky depths, he thought of following after Melissa, after all, what did he have without her?
“Daddy!” the squeal split the day in two, short legs galloping across the front lawn, the roar of the little boy’s father following close behind.
“I’ll get you!”
The boy squealed again, his grin a mile wide. The boy screamed like his big sister as large hands caught him under the arms, and whipped him up into the sky before the boy landed on his father’s shoulders, seeing the world from a whole new height.
“Daddy? Can you help me?”
Large fingers did their level best to help a fifteen year old girl braid her hair, both father and daughter laughing at his fumbled attempts.
“Hey, dad, check out the way this motor revs! Listen to that…” grinning like a fool, the young man of twenty-one pushes the gas of his newly rebuilt Trans Am.
Michael blinked at his own reflection, seeing the faces of his three children instead of his own heart-broken one. He knew at that moment that he had to live, had to go on. He was all they had left.
Rachel looked up into the extremely tall tree, thinking of her extremely not tall stature. Licking dry lips, she heaved herself up, trying to find anything to hold onto, her heart pounding as she tried to shove down her fear of heights. She couldn’t allow herself to look down and see the progress she’d already made; she’d lose her courage completely then.
“You okay up there?” was called from far below. Again, the blonde stopped herself from looking down.
“Yep!” she called back. “Just peachy,” she muttered, heart rising to her throat as she slipped slightly, grabbing onto a vine that had wrapped itself around the thin trunk of the palm. She held on for dear life, eyes closed as she tried to get her bearings and courage back. “Look out below!” she called, opening her eyes and reaching with the stick tucked into her pants, shoving at a clump of cocoanuts, grunting slightly as she tried to hit them harder. Finally three of them came loose, falling into the foliage below.
Denny stepped out of the way of the falling bombs. She didn’t think it would do to survive a plane crash in the middle of the ocean only to die from getting smacked in the head with cocoanuts. They had a small pile already, cocoanuts they’d gathered from the ground, where Denny had found them the night before. She was using her shirt as a makeshift sack for them.
Rachel growled slightly at the last cocoanut, which was being far too stubborn for an inanimate object. Nearly falling from the tree herself, the author grabbed onto the trusty vine, breathing heavily. Blinking sweat out of her eyes, she glanced out over the trees around her, the ocean beyond. Blinking again, she tried to focus in on something out there in the water, something… shiny?
“Oh my god,” she whispered, heart beginning to pound again. She narrowed her eyes, squinting against the distance to try and make out what it was. It glinted off the sunlight. A boat? Could it be a boat?
“What’s wrong?” Denny asked, watching the blonde.
“I see something,” Rachel called down, raising an arm and pointing.
“I don’t know. Can’t tell. It’s, it looks like metal.”
Denny felt her own heart beat began to race, the faintest bit of hope tickling her insides. She caught the final cocoanut the fell, though Rachel hadn’t touched it. Her amusement was cut short as the blonde scurried down the tree. Landing with a soft grunt, she turned to Denny briefly before running back through the trees, calling out over her shoulder for Denny to follow.
Both out of breath as they broke to the beach, heading to the water, where Rachel stood, hand raised to shield her eyes from the fierce sun. The coffee shop owner stood next to the blonde, trying to focus in on whatever she had seen.
“Does that look like a boat to you?” Rachel whispered, almost afraid to breathe the possibility.
“I don’t know.” Denny would have done anything for binoculars at that point. Something in her gut told her that disappointment was coming their way.
“What’s going on?” Dean asked, running up to the two women, face scrunching up as he looked into the bright sun-lit water. He saw the blonde extend an arm, pointing. Following her finger, her saw something glinting, seeming to bob in the water. “What is that?”
“We don’t know,” Rachel said.
A new-found reason to try and survive all this, Michael looked around, trying to figure out exactly how he was going to survive this. As if something had answered his prayers, the mechanic saw… something.
He rose to his hand and knees, squinting. No way. “Oh my god,” he whispered. Realizing that what he thought he saw wasn’t a trick of the mind, Michael began to try and paddle, making little progress, other then starting to drift to the left. “Shit.”
Dean felt his heart fall, realizing that it wasn’t a savior, just a bit of what looked to be debris, more likely than not, from the wreckage. Angrily waving it off, he turned and stormed back across the beach where he had begun piling wood.
Denny and Rachel stayed put, both feeling the crash of their own disappointment. Rachel could feel the sting of unshed emotion, which she quickly swallowed down. About to turn away, she stopped, stepping forward, the water barely teasing the toes of her shoes.
“Wait,” she muttered absently. “There’s someone out there.”
“What? Are you sure?” Denny had lost her contacts in the crash, so her distance vision was for the birds. And apparently Rachel Holt.
“Yeah. There’s someone on that thing!”
Michael slid his body around until his lower half was in the water up to mid-thigh. Holding on as best he could, he used what little energy the adrenaline was providing him, and began to kick. The wing finally was on its way toward the land that lay before him, taunting him. Lowering his head, Michael put all he had into it, pounding into the water, feeling the refreshing spray rain down on him. Soon he was panting heavily, but it didn’t matter; he had to make it.
“Look! They’re coming this way!” Rachel exclaimed, racing down the beach toward the area where the drifter was heading. Denny followed closely behind, the blonde’s cries having garnered Pam and Mia’s attention. Even Dean was interested again. The five survivors waited on the shore, watching.
Michael, breathing hard and feeling his legs cramping and body giving out, looked up, nearly falling into tears when he spotted a figure on the beach, arms waving high above their head. A new wave of energy filling him, the mechanic kicked on.
Rachel could now see clearly that it was a man, pounding of water behind him indicative of his kicking to power his raft toward them. The kicking stopped intermittently, the man collapsing on his metal ‘boat’, then he’d start again. Remembering how shallow the water from the shore, due to the reef, Rachel hurried out into the water, feeling the cool saltiness splashing her skin and tasting it on her lips. She could hear others following.
“I can’t do this,” Michael panted, his body no longer able to continue. No matter how great his desire to touch land, how great is need for food and water, he just couldn’t make himself go on. Hearing something, the Texan looked up, and did cry at the sight of five people hurrying toward him, water up to their waist, then shoulders, and finally they were swimming.
“We’ve got you,” a woman’s voice said, Michael’s vision blurry and unable to make out her features, only that she had light colored hair. He felt hands on his legs, then movement as his craft was pushed ashore. Helped to his feet, sturdy hands under his arms and around his waist, Michael wobbled to solid ground, his legs giving out when he was in knee-deep water. He collapsed, crying in relief and frustration. His angels wouldn’t allow him to give up.
“Come on, man, almost there,” another woman said. Gathering the last remnants of humanity, Michael made it to shaky legs, half walking, half dragged, to the sandy shore, where he collapsed once more, panting heavily.
Something was put before him, cupped leaves maybe? Whatever it was, it was filled with water. Michael nearly dumped it in his haste to drink, gulping down the cool sweetness, feeling it slide down his parches throat, brining the dying flesh back to life.
Michael looked up and saw a man extending what looked to be a tiny banana at him. Once realization dawned no what it was, he grabbed it, frantically trying to peel it, almost sobbing as his fingers wouldn’t work.
“Hey, hey, slow down.”
Looking to his right, he saw a woman with long, dark hair squatting next to him. She took the banana from him, peeling it and handing him the stubby fruit. She smiled, which was like the sunlight through the clouds to Michael’s broken heart and body. He couldn’t even manage a ‘thank you’ as he took the food from her, eating it in two large bites.
“More?” he managed.
Denny nodded. “Yeah, but wait big, fella. Take it slow.”
“Are you an angel?” he asked, staring into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. They twinkled with the owner’s smile.
“No. Just a survivor like you. All of us are.” Denny indicated those who stood around the large Texan. He looked up, really seeing everyone for the first time since he’d landed. He realized he actually recognized a couple.
“How long have you all been here? How long has it been?” He turned back to the woman who still knelt next to him.
“I’ve been here since the day it happened, two days ago. Have you been drifting all this time?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah. Me and my wife.”
Denny watched him carefully, seeing the way his face fell at the mention of his wife. She obviously wasn’t with him now, so … where was she? The Texan answered her unasked question, eyes dropping.
“She uh, she didn’t make it.” Michael was tired of crying like some girl, so he swallowed it down. Now he was safe, had a bit of water and a tiny bit of food. He needed to fully concentrate on getting back home to his kids- the rest could wait.
“I’m really sorry.”
Rachel stood with her arms crossed over her chest, watching the interaction between Denny and their newest member of the club. She listened to the easy way the brunette talked to him, and the way her responded to her. It looked like the man was close to tears, and certainly exhausted. Rachel couldn’t help but smile as she saw Denny take the man in a tight hug, then released him, a hand still on his back as she talked quietly to him, their words barely discernable.
“It’s going to be okay,” the brunette murmured, smiling at Michael. “We’re all going to get home.”
Michael nodded, absorbing the warmth and compassion like a mother’s embrace.
“In face, when Rachel over there spotted you, we were all trying to get organized. Come on, let me introduce you to the clan.” Denny stood, holding down a hand for Michael. Once on his feet, the mechanic leaned on the brunette until he got his balance, then turned to face the others. “What is your name?”
“Michael Dupree,” the Texan said, shaking Denny’s offered hand.
“I’m Denny, that’s Rachel over there, Pam, Dean, and Mia.”
Michael nodded. “Good to know ya’ll. I can’t thank you enough for your kindness.” He looked at each and every face, mentally tallying who he was with, trying to figure them out with their stance, facial expressions or just the way they looked. The blonde looked to be a quiet sort, her body language closing her off from everyone else, her eyes watchful, taking everything in. The brunette with the blue eyes, her eyes were open, accepting and extremely expressive. He sensed a genuine presence there. The older woman Denny had called Pam studied him with open candor, sizing him up, looking him over. Her face was hard with lines bourn of a hard life and hard work. She didn’t trust easily. The young girl, standing not to far from Pam, looked like a deer caught in very big headlights. The girl didn’t look as though she knew where she was, or why she was there. Then there was the guy, standing over by Rachel. His clothes and stance said more than his words could. Though ruined, it was obvious his duds were fine and expensive. His chin was raised ever so slightly, giving him an air of superiority, whether imagined or real. One arm was crossed over his stomach, the elbow of his other arm resting upon it, a finger absently rubbing against his lips.
“Well, why don’t you relax here, Michael Dupree, and the rest of us are going to get back to trying to get some food and shelter, okay?” Denny slapped the man on the back lightly, then walked back over toward Rachel, both heading back into the foliage.
The light came in through the fluttering curtains, white lace. Dark eyes blink several times, trying valiantly to hold back a new onslaught of tears. She hadn’t been successful yet, but maybe this time. A soft knock sounded at the closed bedroom door.
The door slowly opened, squeaking slightly, then closed just as softly. “How are you, my child?” Lizbeth Vinzetti asked, setting down the tray of tea with lemon she’d brought. She sat on the edge of the narrow bed, placing a worn, but soft hand on a cotton-clad shoulder. She looked at her granddaughter’s back, shoulders hunched and head tucked slightly. The light shining in through the window made the black hair lying against the pillow, shine.
“I feel dead inside,” Gloria said, feeling the tickle of a tear running down the side of her nose and slipping down across her lips.
“My dear, dear quello piccolo.”
Gloria’s eyes slid closed as her grandmother’s fingers ran through the short hair at the back of her head, more tears squeezing out. Lizbeth could see Gloria was falling apart, and leaned over, hugging the younger woman’s slender shoulders to a plump bosom. She whispered comforting words to her distraught granddaughter, her own pain pushed aside to ease that of Gloria. She and Paolo had flown to New York when they’d gotten the word of the amazing rescue of the three survivors from flight 1049. It was unheard of, and the rescue had made news all over the world. They had been with their granddaughter at her Brooklyn apartment for three days, watching as doctors came and went, as well as well-wishers and mourners. Gloria refused to see any of them, except the doctors, though that had been a fight. The tiny apartment was littered with flowers and cards, the fridge filled to capacity with mainly uneaten offerings of condolences and support.
“Why did this happen, Nonna? Have I not lost enough in my life?” Gloria’s words were whispered and shaky. “I have to lose my parents, now my own daughter? Papa is sick, and will soon leave me, too.” Fresh sobs wracked the woman’s body, her grandmother holding on tighter, knowing there was nothing she could say, no explanation, that would make any more sense than the insanity and unfairness of the situation. Gloria just needed to know that she was loved, for as long as that love lasted, it was there.
“You have to trust that she’s in a good place, my Gloria. She is now with my Carmina,” Lizbeth whispered, thinking back to her own daughter, knowing full well the depth of Gloria’s pain. “We will get through this. Maybe you come back to Milano, yes?”
Gloria sighed. She had no idea about anything anymore. She didn’t know if she could leave the apartment, all of Mia’s things still tucked neatly into her bedroom across the hall, the bedroom where Gloria’s own grandparents were staying.
“I don’t know, Nonna. I just don’t know.”
It was dark. And cold. Mia stared out over the ocean, the moonlight glittering across its waves. It would be beautiful under different circumstances. She stared out over the water, knowing that her mother was under the surface somewhere, not even a grave marker, nor a grave, for the teenager to visit. But then, as long as she were on the island, she’d be able to visit every day.
The sixteen year old brought her legs up, wrapping her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees. Glancing up into the pitch black sky, Mia was amazed. Living in the busy, bustling city, she never got to see such an incredible night sky, so completely velvet, colors true and in amazing contrast- black sky, silvery, twinkling stars. Someday she’d like to put tat sky on her bedroom ceiling, able to look up into the purity of it every night.
It was amusing, six people, and none of them could figure out how to get a fire started. The rain hadn’t helped things, either. Any wood gathered by Dean was still too wet, and all of their efforts, mainly Pam and the new guy, Michael, had resulted in nothing but a lot of foul-smelling smoke. So, ultimately they’d all gathered under the shelter Pam and Mia had managed to make, crude at best, and more of a lean-to than great shelter, trying to stay warm. The shared body heat had helped for sure, but everyone was still squeamish with each other, all virtual strangers, and tried to keep polite distance. It was amusing to the girl, though sad. Even in a dire situation, propriety won out over necessity. She wondered how long that would last.
Everyone seemed nice, and that was good. Mia hoped they all could get along until they managed to somehow get off the island. That inevitable brought her thoughts to her new life without her mother. Where would she go? She had no family in America, and figured she could go with her great-grandparents, but she had no desire to leave New York, and besides, her great-grandfather was terminally ill, and no doubt her great-grandmother would follow soon after. Then what?
Mia glanced over her shoulder to see Rachel standing just behind her, her blonde hair turned silver in the moonlight. The teenager turned back to the water, nodding. Suddenly she realized she didn’t want to be alone, and patted the sand next to her. She felt more than heard, the author sit.
“Beautiful,” Rachel commented softly. Yet another scene to commit to memory. She glanced at the girl to her right. The look in the dark eyes said it all, but Rachel thought it might help Mia to talk about it. “Want to talk about it?”
Mia shrugged. “I’m just so sad. I know it may sound naïve, but I never thought I’d have to live without my mom. I guess maybe I thought she’d be around forever. Stupid, I know.”
“It’s not stupid, Mia,” Rachel said gently. The warm gaze of the teenager met her own. She thought that some day, when Mia found out who she really was, she would be stunning. Her dark eyes were almond-shaped and gave her the appearance of the exotic. Her long, dark hair was long and healthy, looking thick and soft to the touch. “I lost my sister and best friend a year and a half ago. To this day I still think of ways I could have let her know how much I loved her. Things we should have done, if only I’d know we had such little time.”
“Yeah! Exactly. I shouldn’t have fought with her so bad.” Mia looked back out to sea. “Maybe this is my pun-“
“Don’t!” Rachel felt anger flare to life for this sweet, young girl who would dare take this tragedy on as her own doing. “Don’t say that, don’t even think that.” She turned so she was fully facing the teen, her knees almost touching the girl’s side. “Mia,” she said, her tone gentle, a hand resting on Mia’s shoulder. “what happened was a terrible, terrible accident that we may never fully know why it happened. But it was just that- an accident. Your mom’s, well, what happened to your mom was just part of that accident. I don’t mean to deny you your pain, because I know first-hand just how real it is, but Michael lost his wife, and Pam lost her boyfriend. Those people died because of something larger than all of us, and beyond any of our understanding and comprehension.”
Mia turned to look into intense green eyes, turned gray in the darkness. “Do you really think so?”
“I know so, sweetie.” The blonde smiled, squeezing the shoulder she still cupped.
Mia smiled slightly, looking down at her hands, which now fidgeted atop her knees. Rachel was so nice and beautiful. Her and Denny both. Mia felt shy and uncertain around them, both just enough older than her to make her feel really young. The feeling quickly faded as another admission escaped her lips.
“I feel like I should have died with her, Rachel. Maybe I still should.”
Rachel wasn’t surprised by Mia’s words, knowing that she felt the same way after Daisy was diagnosed, then died. She kept her voice even yet firm. “Do you think your mom would want that for you?”
Mia shook her head, not even having to think. She could almost hear her mom’s voice encouraging her to continue on. She knew in her heart that Gloria would want nothing more than for Mia to make the best of her situation until she could make it better. After all, that’s what her mom always said she was doing back home in Brooklyn.
“Make your mom proud, Mia. Do justice to the lovely young woman she’s raised.” When Rachel saw she had the shy gaze of the teen, she smiled. “Okay?” Gently playing with a strand of the dark hair, the author waited for a response. Finally Mia nodded, a small smile tugging at her lips. Without warning, Rachel found herself with a bundle of teen hugging her enthusiastically.
“Thanks, Rachel,” Mia whispered into the blonde’s shoulder.