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
Visit me at: www.coloradobardsplace.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
Matt felt his stomach lurch as the plane hit yet more turbulence, eyes closing as he white knuckled the armrest of his seat. It was the second time he'd flown to New York since Rachel's death, and now he hated to fly. The weather in Portland had started to turn bad as the plane was taxiing out, making them stop to de-ice the wings. Again. All the detective could do was swallow and try and keep his breakfast down.
New York. He snorted. It made him think of Reenie, which made him think of the betrayal he felt, though somewhere inside he knew he should be angry and hurt with Rachel, but just couldn't. She was gone, and he couldn't help but feel anything more than grief and guilt over that. The editor had flown into Oregon nearly three months ago, where they'd driven together to Eugene to see Rachel's lawyer.
Did she really hate me that much? And that was before I started seeing Diane. Matt stared out the window, watching the white nothingness of clouds. After the blonde's sister had died, it had scared her so badly that she had made a living will, and everything had been left to Reenie and her other sisters, other than the house, which Rachel had bought outright two years ago. When they'd visited Rachel's publisher a few months before that, the publisher signed royalties over to the detective. Rachel hadn't made future arrangements for those.
The detective was so much hurt that Rachel's money, name and assets had been willed to others, he didn't want her money. He did want to understand, and he wanted his wife back. He wanted to be able to talk with her, try and understand her, and prayed that she would let him in, let him understand her mind. The only thing he could figure from her actions was that the author didn't picture them still together when she died, who knows how many years down the road.. Life can sure be ironic.
Matt Frazier started as the captain's voice as he let the passengers know they were getting ready to land. Thank god. Matt closed his eyes again as his stomach reacted to the slight change in pressure as the plane banked toward the right.
A month ago, the detective had gotten a call from a man named Stanley Wells, who was in charge of a mass memorial for all who had perished on flight 1049. Matt hadn't wanted to go, unsure if he could emotionally handle it. But, alas, Reenie had talked him into it, telling him that maybe he would feel better if he could talk to some of the other family members of those who died with Rachel. Reluctantly, he'd agreed.
"Hi, Matt." Reenie took the disheveled man into her quick, but firm embrace, offering to help carry the large carry-on he'd brought with him. She glanced over at him a few times, listening to the clipped responses he gave her when she asked about his trip.
She knew Matt was angry with her, but had no way to stop that. She understood his hurt, and had spent the past weeks trying to figure out just why Rachel had done that she did. She knew the author could be headstrong, but this turn of events was completely unlike her. As far as the editor know, at the time of Daisy's death, nearly two years ago now, Rachel was still committed to her marriage and trying to make it work, though there were problems. In truth, hearing the amount of money she was to receive once the paperwork was settled, she felt sick; she had no desire to have Rachel's money, and decided to make other plans for it.
"So are you ready for this?" she asked, slamming the trunk of her car closed, after Matt tossed his bag inside. She glanced at him over the top of the car before they both climbed inside.
"I suppose." Matt sighed, running a hand through his hair, making it even messier than it had been before. Reenie was surprised by his appearance. Usually Matt Frazier, a good looking guy, was well groomed and well kempt, clothes neat and clean, face shaved and body showered.
"What's happened to you, Matt?" she finally asked as she stopped at a red traffic light, dark eyes traveling over his stained, wrinkled shirt. His tormented tired hazel eyes to meet her gaze, fingers absently pushing a random dark strand of sweaty hair out of them.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, nearly barking the words out.
"It means you look like shit," Reenie said, once again getting the car moving.
"Thank you. I needed that." The detective looked out the window, mildly amused as he watched people walking along the sidewalk, trying to fight the fierce autumn wind and cold, jackets bundled tightly around them. Halloween was a week away, and traditionally that's when the bad weather really set in.
"Well Jesus, Christ, Matt! You look like you slept in your clothes for three days, and haven't taken a shower in as long." She eyed him again. "What the hell? Why are you letting yourself go? It's not doing Rachel any-"
"Don't you dare fucking talk to me about Rachel, or what she wants, wanted, thought, liked or didn't like. You don't fucking know!"
Reenie started, shocked at the cop's outburst. She'd never heard him raise his voice before, and his booming voice filling the confines of the car startled the editor. She could feel his pain, hear it in his voice. She was struck dumb for the rest of the drive to her place, where she parked in the underground garage, and led the way to her door.
Matt stepped inside, unable to feel remorse for his outburst. He had been stewing over the slap in the face for months, unable to vent to the woman he most wanted to.
"Look, Matt," Reenie said, laying her coat over the arm of a chair, "if this is about the money-"
"I don't give a flying fuck about the money, Reenie!" He threw his bag to the floor, turning on the brunette. "She didn't believe in me, in us, enough to think we'd be together when she died. So if you think this is about money-"
"Believe in you? Believe in you?!" Reenie fired, feeling her own pent up feelings rising to the surface. "Was she supposed to believe in you while you were out fucking another woman? Is that the trust and faith you're talking about?"
The detective's guilt boiled over into irrepressible anger. "What the hell do you know about that?" he roared, taking a menacing step over to the editor. "You don't know anything! Maybe if Rachel hadn't been so goddamn cold and distanced herself-"
"Maybe she has her reasons to be cold toward you, ever think of that? Maybe if you had more understanding and tried to get to the bottom of it. Maybe if you had taken the time-"
"Stop it! Both of you!"
Reenie and Matt froze, turning toward the roar behind them. Beth stood in the doorway of the guest bedroom, blue eyes flashing between the two. Seeing she had both their attention, the actress stepped further into the room, her gaze hard and accusing.
"Do you think this is going to bring her back? Is this going to change what's happened? No! You both need to deal with the fact that Rachel is gone, and nothing she did while alive matters, not the money, the will, fights, none of it," she sliced the air with her hand for emphasis. Softening her face and voice, she walked over to Matt. "Look, I don't really know you all that well," she placed a gentle hand on his arm, seeing the anger visibly start to leave his body. "You will never know why Rachel did what she did, what was behind her decisions, but ultimately they were her decisions. I know it hurts you, and you are entitled to that hurt, but attacking Reenie on things past isn't the way to go about it."
"Shh." Beth placed a finger just an inch away from his lips, then turned to the editor. "What are you doing, Reenie? Your anger at Matt for whatever reason won't help you feel any better." She looked from one to the other. "You guys are placing your anger at fate on each other, and it's not right and it's not fair. Neither of you deserve this." She looked from hazel to dark brown, finally Matt looked away, mumbling something about taking a shower.
Reenie sat hard on the couch, running a hand over short, dark hair. "That went well," she muttered, glancing toward the hall Matt had disappeared down. Beth sat next to her, still a bit shaky from her outburst. She hated being angry, having dealt with anger far too much in her younger years. Back in those days, the theater had been the only thing to tame her, and… well, she wasn't going to go there. The past didn't matter anymore, nor the people who filled it.
"You guys have got to stop fighting and blaming each other, Reenie. It only makes things worse," she said at length, the other woman nodding dumbly.
"I know. I just can't help it. I'm so goddamn angry with her, you know?" She met achingly blue eyes. "Why does it still hurt so bad?"
"Because life is marching on, the year is moving by quickly, almost into the holiday season. After Halloween, Thanksgiving then Christmas." Beth looked down at her fidgeting hands for a moment, then met Reenie's searching gaze again. "I remember when my dad left the family. Granted, he didn't die, but it sure felt like a death to a twelve year old. It was summer time, and I felt so lost and alone, left with just my mother, who I couldn't stand. I felt so abandoned, and can't even tell you the anger I felt. Still do, I guess." She smiled, though it was thin and sad.
"How long has it been? Do you see him much now?"
"He walked out of my life fourteen years ago, and no, I don't see him all that much. He has a new family, with kids who are teenagers. I see him maybe once a year."
"And your mom?"
Beth shook her head. "No. She's still back in Colorado, no doubt drinking herself to death."
"At least you can see him still, Beth. Even if it is once a year."
"But you have the luxury of knowing that Rachel didn't leave you on purpose, Reen. I'm not comparing apples and oranges here, cause your pain and Matt's pain is as real to you two as mine is to me. Know that your friend loved you, and would still be here if she could, eager to talk to you every day, or whatever. And as for Matt," the actress glanced over her shoulder toward the bathroom, making sure he wasn't making an appearance. "He's letting his guilt over cheating eat him alive. I think he feels he pushed her toward getting on that plane, and therefore by proxy, it's somehow his fault."
"Rachel was a grown woman, Reenie. She boarded that plane of her own free will."
The editor sighed, knowing full well Beth was right, but was having a hard time admitting it to her heart. She needed something, someone to blame for Rachel's death, and Matt was the perfect target. She sighed heavily.
"Pull! Come on, damnit, pull!" Pam yelled with a grunt, eyes squeezing shut as she dug her heels in, hands burning with the exertion.
"Almost there, ack!" Michael growled, putting his shoulder and arm muscles into it, feeing the strain under the sweat and sun-drench skin. He could feel Dean behind him, the attorney's hand vying for a better position, which nearly made him lose the leverage he'd already gained.
Denny locked her jaw in deep concentration, brows narrowed, ignoring the tearing of the skin on her middle finger from the rough vine. She nearly went ass over appetite as the boys gave a mighty yank. She tried not to cry out as the action put even more strain on her right shoulder, which still ached when it got cold.
"No, no! Come on, girls!" Pam howled, nearly screaming in her angst.
"Come on, ladies!" Mia clapped wildly from the sidelines, watching Michael and Dean strain against the trio of Denny, Rachel and Pam. "You're almost there! Almost got it!"
Pam felt relieved as she felt some give, glancing across the large, dug out chasm filled with water to meet Michael's gaze, both sets of eyes filled with a fire to win. The Texan gritted his teeth, head rearing back as he put everything he had into it, every muscle in his body flexed with the strain.
Rachel almost wanted to giggle at the absurdity of what they were doing- five grown adults, tugging and pulling on a rope made of thick vine, trying to yank the other team into the pit of water they'd created. Her thoughts flew from her head as she felt some serious give, and could feel their teams anchor, Denny, behind her, hearing her grunt. Elation filled the blonde as she felt the need to actually walk backward or get trampled by Pam, as they pulled the boys over onto their side, Michael falling into the water, a domino effect getting them all.
Denny yelled out as she fell over backwards, Rachel falling on top of her, followed by Pam. "Oomph!" she exclaimed, feeling the softness of the blonde's body. She could hear Rachel laughing hysterically, and couldn't help but follow suit, as much as she could, barely able to breathe, let alone laugh.
Rachel felt arms encircle her waist, and the softness of Denny beneath her. Pam crawled off the author, then Rachel tried to crawl off Denny, but was laughing too hard. She fell down again, hearing the brunette's grunt beneath her. Finally able to get herself turned around, she looked down into twinkling blue eyes, which stood out even more from the red flush of Denny's cheeks.
Denny felt her heart begin to flutter, stomach clench at the feel of the warm body, Rachel's breasts barely grazing against her own before the author pulled herself to her knees, then Pam helped her to her feet. The brunette lay stunned, body suffused with heat and sudden need, which instantly brought images of Hannah to her mind, feeling guilty for something she hadn't done. Finally she took the hand that Rachel extended down to her, allowing herself to be pulled to her own feet, though she was unsteady.
"You okay, there?" Rachel chuckled, a hand on the brunette's waist to steady her. At Denny's nod, she gave her a quick squeeze with her hand, then headed off to celebrate with the other two girls, and throwing barbs at the losers.
Denny stood there, gripped in a strange feeling for a moment, trying to shake it off. Granted, she had been without Hannah's touch for, she mentally thought about her markings on the tree that she started the day she woke up on the island, nearly one hundred and twenty three days. Four months without a woman's touch, no, without Hannah's touch. She ran shaking hands through her hair, then joined the revelers.
"… easy when it's three against one!" Dean was saying, though he was grinning from ear to ear, despite the fact he still had sand plastered to the side of his sweat-slicked face.
"Oh, quit your whining," Pam laughed, slapping him on the shoulder. "You guys lost fair and square."
Michael grumbled, but nodded in defeat.
"So, what do we get for dinner?" Rachel asked, eyes bright with victory. When Michael and Dean began to grumble, the blonde cut them off. "Hey, hey, hey! That was the deal, boys. Whoever won had to catch dinner." She pointed to the inflated slide they used as a raft to go into deeper waters to fish. "Out!"
Denny stood off by herself, her mind reeling from the heat that still traveled through her body. When she glanced at the blonde, the heat level raised, her body clenching from months of neglect. Turning away, she headed into the thick jungle, Dean's knowing look lost to her back.
The brunette took several deep breaths, trying to still her quickly beating heart. She gathered her long hair into her hand, trying to take the heavy load off the back of her neck to cool down. Guilt was her constant companion as she made her way toward the waterfall, slipping behind it to the small alcove she'd discovered, and quickly became her hiding place when she needed to be alone.
Sitting heavily on the cool, stone floor, she leaned her head back against the wall, looking into the spray of water that cascaded down, not ten feet in front of her, the world beyond distorted and dulled. She blew out a long breath, trying to clear her mind of feelings and sensations, instead trying to bring Hannah's face before her eyes, her body, her voice, the smell of her dark hair, anything. It worked, and she began to calm, convincing herself there was no reason to feel guilty. Rachel was a beautiful woman, no one could deny that, and the only one around that would interest Denny if they were back home, let alone stranded with two other women, one sixteen, the other a mother hen to them all.
"It's only natural," she explained to herself softly, nodding to try and convince herself. "You did nothing wrong, only had a visceral reaction." She blew out a breath, feeling like her body was finally under control, and she could return to the group.
"Anybody seen the food masher?" Pam called out as the men grunted, pushing the slide out to sea, then climbing aboard. Michael didn't like the idea of spending time alone with the little fairy in the middle of the ocean, but bit his tongue, knowing he had to honor his commitment to the gals who counted on them back ashore.
The men remained quiet, neither wanting to be on a fishing expedition, but knowing they had no choice, so to make it as pleasant as possible, they kept their mouths shut. Dean glanced at the mechanic, noting Michael's vacant stare out into the expanse of water as they silently rowed the raft further into open sea, but careful not to get too far.
"This should do," Michael said suddenly, bringing up his oar, made from heavy tree branches with vine wrapped round the end to create a large mass for paddling. Dean also brought up his oar, situating them to the side of the raft, and removing his shoes. He knew he looked like a dork with jeans, ripped off to the mid-thigh, no shirt and Gucci loafers on. Modesty and fashion sense had long ago hit the road. All the same, he wasn't going to ruin his loafers any more than they already were.
"You going or am I?" he asked, meeting the Texan's gaze. Michael leaned over the side of the boat, staring into the depths, imaging all the fish swimming just under the surface. "I'll go." He met the other man's gaze once more. "Think you can pull me back in?"
"Eye, eye, captain." With a salute and small smile, Dean watched the mechanic slide over the side of the boat, and quickly disappear in the ocean, nothing but waves and bubbles where he had just been.
Michael waited for his eyes to adjust to the salt water, blinking rapidly, but then everything began to clear. It was so peaceful down there, quiet and dark, yet a whole world began to come into view, a world filled with alien plant life and creatures. It was like floating on another planet. Darting to his left, a huge, colorful fish came into his world, and Michael turned away, knowing from his youth that it was a bad fish, not for eating. As a kid, they used to call them cyanide fish, cause it could knock out a grown man with just a bit of the poison stashed in its body.
He kicked powerful legs and arms, moving deeper into the depths to see what his options were before he needed to surface for air. Just before he headed up, he saw a huge school of fish, nice, big fat ones.
Dean saw the glittery outline of Michael as he rose toward the surface, breaking through with a gasp. The Texan hung on to the edge of the raft with one hand while brushing his hair out of his eyes with the other.
"Found 'em." He panted for a moment as he got his bearings again and filled his lungs. "Huge groupin' down there. Be ready."
"Okay." Dean watched the big man take an even bigger breath, then he was gone again. Dean sat back in the raft, looking up into the sky, clouds gathering.
Gloria Vinzetti looked at herself in the mirror above her dresser. It was oval and shadowed with age, having belonged to her grandmother when she was a girl. Waste not, want not. She couldn't see it being thrown out. Adjusting the collar of her black dress, she sighed heavily at the familiar color. She hadn't allowed herself to wear anything else in the past months. The bags under her eyes made a better accessory than her pearls.
As ready as she would ever be, Gloria slipped into her jacket and grabbed her keys and purse. Never in her life had she dreaded something so badly. Well, that wasn't true- Mia's funeral had been the hardest day of her life, but this was a close second. She didn't want to be reminded of this anymore. She was tired of it. As it was, her beloved Rachel Holt's name and face was still plastered over the TV screen and magazine and newspaper covers. Damn, if only the short woman had known her favorite author had been on the same flight with her. She had been astonished and devastated to find that out. At every bookstore in Brooklyn, Rachel's books were flying off the shelves, everyone trying to cash in on Rachel's death.
Traffic was bad, as usual, but that was okay. The delay was delaying the inevitable, and Gloria just didn't know if her stomach could handle it. Her Nonna and Papa had flown home more than a month ago, Paolo Vinzetti needing to get home to see his doctors. Gloria had been so tempted to go with them, leave everything in America, as she felt she had nothing left to stay for, but Lizbeth had talked her out of it. Her life was in Brooklyn, the place she'd raised her daughter, seen her grow from an adorable little girl to a bright, beautiful young woman. If truth be told, Gloria couldn't leave. She felt her daughter still with her in the apartment, and just couldn't let that go. She had a feeling that Mia's spirit wouldn't be with her still in Milan.
The convention center was packed, filled with the families of the two hundred and sixty-three people who had died on flight 1049, banners hanging up welcoming and directing guests. People were already roaming about the huge ball room, drinks in hand, voices soft murmurs at the Meet and Greet. Cheerful paper and balloons were strung over just about anything that would stand still, hoping to lighten the mood of such an event. As Gloria made her way through the crowds, she almost felt like she was at her high school reunion again. She caught snippets of conversations as she made her way toward the refreshment table:
"… son's babysitter, so sad…"
"… married for thirty-three years. She loved to…"
"… Davies will fly the search missions. I believe there are other survivors to be found."
The Italian woman stopped at this, turning to see who was saying this, for a moment, feeling a glimmer of hope. She just hoped the finely dressed man was talking about what she thought he was talking about. "Excuse me, my name is Gloria Vinzetti."
One of the women standing in the little group of four's eyes got huge, her hand going to her open mouth. "Aren't you one of the Lucky Three?" she whispered, referring to the title the press had dubbed the three rescued as. Gloria nodded. The woman fell to pieces, taking Gloria in a monster hug, nearly taking the smaller woman off her feet. "I'm so glad you three were able to survive such a horrendous tragedy."
Gloria smiled shyly, not sure what to say. She had been hounded by the media for the first month or so after the rescue, but it had all died down as they turned their attention to other breaking stories. The new attention was somewhat disconcerting, especially as the entire group turned toward her. She eyed the handsome man with the sandy-colored hair, which was her initial target.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I overheard you talking as I walked by. Were you talking about sending out search planes for 1049?"
Will smiled charmingly at the woman, who's face he'd seen a dozen times on the news. He also knew she'd lost a daughter. "Yes, ma'am. I'm Will Ash," he extended a well-manicured hand, enveloping the smaller hand in his. "I'm so sorry for your loss, Miss Vinzetti, and think it's wonderful you were able to be saved."
"Thank you, Mr. Ash," Gloria said shyly, charmed by him.
"Call me Will."
Gloria swallowed, shaking off the charisma so she could think straight and get her focus back. "What is your interest in this, Will? What makes you think you'll find anything?'
"My partner, Dean Ratliff, was on that flight, Miss Vinzetti. My heart tells me he's still alive, and I intend to either prove it right, or," he swallowed, "prove it wrong."
"The coast guard won't help you any further?" one of the men in the group asked, sipping from his drink. Will turned to him, shaking his head.
"I've tried every angle, and it was suggested to me that I go private. Thus where Miss Davies comes in. We've already taken one pass in the general area, but intend to go back out in another month. I heard the author, uh, what was her name," he snapped his fingers as he tried to remember her name.
"Rachel Holt," Gloria provided.
"Right! Rachel Holt's husband is supposed to be here today, and I'd like to talk to him. Perhaps with such a high profile victim, we can bring some public interest into this story, get some financial support for rescue efforts."
Matt and Reenie walked in together, but quickly separated, Matt heading toward the cash bar, Reenie taking in everything around her, astounded by the number of people the tragedy had touched. How many lives in the room had been ruined by what happened? The newspapers were announcing new findings from the black box that was finally found, along with wreckage at the bottom of the ocean. Instrument failure, they said. The 767 had been so drastically off course, and the pilots had never known it until it was too late. Then to add insult to injury, engine two had given out, causing the plane to make its fiery descent to a watery grave.
There was talk of lawsuits, and no doubt the airline was about ready to shit a brick. The editor couldn't help but smile at that, as she felt they should be scared. Her best friend and favorite client had died because of their negligence.
She accepted a flute of something amber and bubbly from a passing waiter's tray, nodding her gratitude as she sipped. She was mildly intrigued by the mixture of souls present, and their mixture in life status. Some walked around in Armani and Prada, while others walked around in the K-Mart blue light special. But through all the poverty and pomp, there was one thread that wove everyone together- loss.
Total stillness, harsh in its completeness. Visions before her, people walking, gesticulating, expressions and emoting bodies. Tracy Sloan took it all in, eyes wide with curiosity and slight fear, as she always had when entering into an unknown world that she wasn't given time to explore and learn. She felt better at the constant touch on her arm, knowing it was Colleen, her interpreter and constant companion since she was seven. Nineteen years later, the older woman was her family. Colleen had been the one to break the news to the young woman about her mother's death. Next to Dr. Pam Slaon, Tracy trusted Colleen like no other.
The twenty-six year old felt a slight tap on her arm, and turned to see Colleen signing to her with swift, graceful fluidity. Tracy nodded in understanding and signed her response. Together they joined the crowd as it headed toward the double doors that lined the great ball room.
Matt stood nervously next to Reenie, as it would be their turn to shine after the speaker finished, before the memorial actually started. Reverend Mark Stantz and Rabbi Chaim Halevi were standing by to deliver to their respective sermons.
The detective looked down at his fidgeting hands, clasped in front of his suited self. He had to admit, he looked good tonight: freshly showered and shaved, the new tailored suit Reenie had insisted on buying for him. His hair was trimmed and slicked back in an appealing style. He stood next to a stunning Reenie, hair styled with "product", and tucked behind her ears to allow her dangling earrings to shine. Her cocktail dress was black, yet stylish and conservative. Her figure was well displayed without being over done.
The dark-eyed editor could feel Matt's nervousness as he stood next to, and slightly behind, her. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, clearing his throat more than was necessary. Reenie tried to ignore it and listen to the announcer, and promoter of the night's event, Brian Manley, a big wig for the airline behind the disaster.
The auditorium was filled to standing room only with hundreds of family and friends of those lost, the lights dimmed, and a giant screen behind Brian slowly showcasing one face after another, candid shots taken of those who died, along with their name, age and where they were from. Sniffles could be heard in the darkened room, random flashes like lightning strikes.
"The lives of these two hundred and sixty-three people are forever linked together, and live on in our hearts and memories." The last picture to show on the large screen was Rachel Holt, which was Reenie and Matt's segue. "I'd like to introduce to you tonight Reenie Bazilton, Rachel Holt's editor and dear friend, and Matt Frazier, Rachel's husband." Brian Manley stepped aside to thunderous applause as Reenie and Matt stepped into the spotlight.
The detective stared out into the darkness, trying not to think about the hundreds of pairs of eyes on him at that very moment, but instead focusing on why they were there. He happily granted Reenie the stage.
"Thank you for coming tonight, ladies and gentlemen. You have no idea how difficult it is for me to stand up here before you," Reenie paused, staring out into the sea of unseen faces, only able to make out the red and green lights of cameras and a few faces up close. "Then again, maybe you do. Rachel Holt was the closest friend I've ever had, and the most talented person I've ever had the pleasure of meeting and working with. She bared her heart in every novel she wrote, and every word was lovingly applied to the page. Rachel loved her fans, and though this room isn't filled with them now, I know she'd support one hundred percent what I've done." Reenie stepped aside, looking at the screen behind her, which showed the homepage for the website she'd been working steadily on. "I've created 1049 Club in Rachel's name. It's a fund bourn to help the children and needy families of those who died in the tragedy. Donations have already totaled more than a quarter of a million dollars from public donors, as well as the two million the fund was started with."
Matt had heard all of this before, but he still couldn't keep the smile from his face, knowing just how pleased Rachel would be that her money had been put to such good use. He felt pride fill his chest, and different eyes fell upon Reenie. She wasn't the greedy, scheming bitch he'd taken her for after all.
Reenie glanced back to the audience when she heard the collections of gasps go up, as well as more sniffles, though this time of gratitude. "Every passenger is listed on the website," again the editor turned back to the screen, which changed to the page in question. "I've gathered information from the authorities, and will be opening special page for all of you to write in about your loved one, and leave a special message for others to read." The screen changed again. "Here you can write to talk to Matt and I personally, telling us of the financial problems you face from the loss of a spouse, parent, guardian, et cetera."
Gloria watched, the tears glistening in her dark eyes as she listened to what the dark haired woman was saying, stunned at her generosity and kindness of spirit. As the editor wrapped it up, once again a larger than life picture of the blonde author was put up on the screen. Gloria had never seen that picture: Rachel was smiling, her eyes twinkling, the most beautiful color of green. All her pictures on her books were in black and white. The Italian woman studied her for long moments, feeling more tears spring to her eyes. What a complete waste.
His face hurt. His hand hurt. Hell, even his hair hurt. Conrad Dupree sat in the hard chair outside the principal's office, waiting. He wanted to rest his chin on his fist, but even that hurt, so he rested his head back against the wall, instead. His grandma was inside talking to Mrs. Caster, no doubt about what a bad boy he was, and how he needed to change, and watch his temper. Whatever.
The boy with blonde hair jumped as the office door was opened, his principal stepping only halfway out, just far enough to get his attention, beckoning him inside with her finger. Conrad sighed heavily as he flopped down in the chair next to Meredith Adams, though he tried his best not to wince, cause even that hurt.
"Conrad, do you have anything to say for yourself?" Mrs. Denise Caster asked, leaning slightly forward on her desk, gray eyes focused on the slumped form before her. The boy said nothing, didn't even meet her eyes, as he shook his head.
"Conrad, this is the third time this semester," Meredith reminded, her brows knit as she studied her grandson, nearly at a wit's end with him. She winced again when she saw the bruise on his jaw and eye beginning to darken. He'd look like he'd been through war come the light of day. Walter was going to hang the boy out to dry! "What happened?" she asked, deciding to try another tactic. She softened her voice, reaching over to brush a few blonde strands out of his eyes. The boy jerked away, breaking her heart.
"You need to tell us what happened, Conrad," Mrs. Caster said. "Nick isn't telling us anything, so you'll have to."
"Nick's a jerk," Conrad finally muttered, almost into his chest, his head had fallen so low.
"Why is he a jerk, honey?" Meredith asked.
Conrad could see it again, plain as day. He'd been walking down the hall, trying to get to his math class, when suddenly Nick Stavros had stepped away from the lockers in the sixth grader hall, arms spread out wide like bird wings, making airplane sounds, then running into the locker with a verbal explosion. Conrad Dupree felt tears immediately sting behind his eyes, but couldn't allow them to see it. Instead he'd jumped the kid, nearly beating him to a pulp before the gym teacher, Mr. Martinez separated them.
Conrad sniffled as quietly as he could, but the principal didn't miss it. Her gaze met that of the boy's grandmother to see if she'd heard it, too. The look of profound sadness in Meredith's eyes told her all she needed to know.
"I'm going to suspend you for one day, Conrad, so you can think about what you did, okay?" The administrator felt horrible for having to dole out such punishment, but just because of the contentious circumstances, she couldn't treat the beating of another student nothing. Even so, she'd given the Dupree boy a much lighter punishment than the Stavros boy would get. "You're dismissed, Conrad."
Denise watched the two leave, sighing heavily as she sat behind her desk once more. She studied her hands for a moment, questioning herself, but then nodded. She had no choice. The boy had to be punished.
Meredith turned to her grandson, who sat slouched in his seat, arms crossed defiantly over his chest.
"Jenny and I are going to go visit your mom and dad. Want to go?" the grandmother asked, eyes flicking back to the road before turning back to Conrad.
"Damn little fairy," Pam muttered, almost falling head-first into the bush she was dragging the food masher from. Holding it by the base between thumb and forefinger, the veterinarian studied it, shaking it slightly to rid the flesh colored devise of the leaves that stuck to it.
"No luck, Pam," Mia panted, running up the beach toward the older woman, who turned to face the teen, the food masher held up. "Oh." Mia stifled a giggle at the look of utter disgust on Pam's face.
"Little bastard better have cleaned it." She marched toward the fire ring, Mia in tow. Denny and Rachel, who were twisting vine into rope, glanced up, both snickering. "You think this is funny?" the vet asked, one dark brow raised. Both women tried to sober. "Fine. You two get to do the mashin'." Pam threw the masher down and marched back into the dense foliage. Mia stood uncertain, chewing on her lower lip, then hastily followed the older woman.
"Me thinks someone's going off in search of the big leaves," Denny whispered, a sable brow raised. Rachel chuckled, nodding.
"Me thinks you're right." They finished the rest of the vine in companionable silence before moving over to the fire ring and berries Pam and Mia had gathered. Denny glanced over at her friend, having shaken off the morning's uneasy feelings, deciding it wasn't worth upsetting herself over. It was a natural reaction.
"So what were you muttering about the other day?" she asked, trying not to grimace as she picked up the food masher, surreptitiously smelling it to make sure it didn't need to be washed.
"Muttering about?" Rachel's brows drew in confusion, her fingers removing stems from the berries, throwing them in the cold ash in the center of the rocks.
"Yeah. The other day, you were roaming around, muttering about something. I could only catch a word or two now and then, carried on the breeze. At first I thought you were singing, but I don't think so."
"Oh," the blonde said, blushing slightly. Sometimes she hated how small the island could be sometimes, never seeming to get true privacy. Much of the island's three mile radius was too dense for habitation. "I was working on a story, talking it out." She glanced shyly at the brunette, then turned back to her task.
"Talking it out?"
Rachel nodded. "You should see when I'm at home." She grinned. "I used to love doing the dishes, cause it's mindless work, you know? You stand there at the sink, nice, soothing hot water, and nothing to do but think. I'd talk out dialogue, story plots, figure out my character's psychological profiles. Good times."
Denny laughed, taking the berries from Rachel and mashing the hell out of them, scraping off the remnants onto the leaves Pam would use to wrap the fish with.
"You're always asking about me, and trust me, my writing rituals aren't that interesting. What about you?" Rachel glanced over at the brunette, who's attention was fully on mashing a stubborn berry that insisted on rolling instead of becoming purple mush. "Why a coffee shop?"
"Why not?" Denny raised a challenging brow. The glare she got made her chuckle. The brunette wasn't fond of talking about herself, always far more curious about other people, but knew she had a captive audience, and wasn't getting away with her typical pat answers. She cleared her throat as she got serious. "My folks and I didn't get along that well. They're devout Catholics, and I'm… not. Even before they knew I was gay, I was a disgrace to them."
Rachel listened, noting the usually upbeat woman refused to meet her gaze. She felt the uncharacteristic need to reach out and touch the coffee shop owner, a comforting hand on her arm or hand, but decided against it. It was almost as though Denny had closed herself and her personal space off with yellow tape: Do Not Cross.
"I used to love to dance. Me and my friends used to go out all the time, fake I.D.s and all." She chuckled at the memories. "Needless to say, dancing led to drinking, which led to smoking, which led to me breaking a whole laundry list of sins. Bad daughter, sinner, must exercise the demons." Denny sighed, staring out into the darkening day. Absently she eyed the pregnant clouds above. "Anyway, so I was out and had to get my own life. I got a job at a local hang out called Mile, and my boss, Joni saw potential, I guess. Either that or I was the only one who showed up for my shifts on time." Denny grinned at the blonde. "Anyway, I found that I was good at it, enjoyed it, so decided to get a place of my own."
"Do you see your parents now?"
Denny shook her head. "Nope," she slammed the food masher down until it suctioned itself to the rock, the body doinging back and forth, making both women snicker. "Sometimes when your own family fucks you over, you go out and make your own."
"Hannah." The brunette couldn't keep the smile from her face, so soft and gentle. "And what about you? Do you miss your husband, Rachel?"
The blonde was about to open her mouth, coming up with some sort of lame, surface explanation when they heard a loud whoop. Relieved, the blonde turned toward the shore, getting to her feet to meet the boys coming in, holding up a bag full of fish.
"Victory at sea!" Michael yelled, pumping his fish-laden fist in the air. Dean was grinning from ear to ear next to him, the men grunting as they pulled the raft ashore.
"We're eating good tonight, ladies!" Dean said, nearly falling back on his butt as the raft got stuck on a small chasm in the sand. Gaining his footing again, he regained his grin.
"Oh, that was charming," Mia laughed at the robust belch Michael just released. The group chuckled, sitting around the healthy fire, the only light in the deep, dark night. Distant rumbling could be heard, everyone surprised the sky hadn't split open yet to drench them. It had been threatening to all day, the sky heavy and foreboding.
"You know, if we ever make it home, I will never touch fish again," Pam joked, licking her fingers of the juices of the wonderful dinner the boys had caught.
"Amen!" Denny echoed, grabbing her second helping. They hadn't eaten this well in weeks. They all chuckled, knowing full well they would be eating fish the following day, and the day after that, and the day after that.
"Look at me, though," Dean said, rising to his feet and striking a pose. He gave them all a profile, showing off his newly flattened stomach and shapely legs. "Now I look like some twink in New York."
Denny burst into laughter, though everyone else looked on with confusion. "I know. Check this out." She jumped to her own feet, showing everyone her own lack of body fat. She'd never been in such great shape in her life. It was just sad that it took being stranded with barely anything to eat for her to lose the fifteen or twenty pounds she'd been wanting to drop. She raised her arms, flexing and growling as she changed poses. Someone threw up a high-pitched whistle, Dean cheered.
"You go, you big ol' dyke!"
Rachel sat back, licking her chops, and grinning like a fool as she watched Dean and Denny. Her gaze scanned over the brunette's body, having already noticed that the coffee shop owner's belly had disappeared. Her skin was smooth and painted gold and shadow in the firelight.
"Hey, now," Pam said, smacking her own belly, the skin jiggling slightly. "I'm finally finding the six pack under my two liter." This set everyone off again.
"Well, us Texans are just born gorgeous," Michael said with a wink, heading off into the darkness to relieve his bladder.
Denny sat back down, catching green eyes as she did. She grinned at Rachel, getting a raised half a cocoanut shell cup in salute.
The wind was howling, shaking the very fibers of the structure that housed the women. The whistling that managed to seep between the woven leaves was unnerving, and cold.
Denny pulled her legs up closer into her chest, almost into the fetal position. Even the woven grass mats they each had to sleep on, but were now using as coverings, weren't doing the trick. She felt a shiver rush through her, listening as the rain began to finally fall, the drops not yet falling through the trees above to their sanctuary, but she could hear the sand being pelted. She shivered again, about to pull her face down toward her chest, under the mat, but stopped when she noticed Rachel was awake, an arm raised to hold her own mat up in invitation. The blonde was also curled in on herself. Denny looked at her, a slight feeling of panic settling over her as she thought back to how she'd reacted after their tug-of-war game. She remembered how her body had reacted, and the sense of loneliness that had been her constant companion since leaving Buffalo.
The brunette's thoughts halted when she saw Rachel's arm falter, her eyes confused hurt. Realizing she was being ridiculous, Denny scooted to couple feet over to the author, turning her back toward her.
"It's getting colder at night," Rachel whispered against her ear, causing Denny to have to fight a shiver. She nodded mutely, feeling the blonde curl up against her back. Soon, with body heat combined, the two women drifted off into contented sleep.
Rachel felt warmth, completely enveloped in it, causing her to smile and wiggle back into it. She felt protected. Safe. Warm. Held. Held!? Green eyes popped open, the author disoriented and suddenly struck with fear as the roar of the world around her entered her reality. She was lying on her left side, Denny nearly wrapped around her from behind, a long arm across the blonde's stomach, holding her close against the warm body behind her. She only had a moment to soak that in when cries outside rent the air, as well as the deafening roar that had first woken her.
"Fuck! Help me, Michael!" Dean screamed at the top of his lungs, trying desperately to gather as much gear into his arms as the driving force of the wind and rain would allow. The Texan barely heard him over the sound of the storm, the waves swelling and breaking on the beach, almost knocking him off his feet. Sputtering, he tried to shake the rain out of his eyes, only able to see the struggling man when another crack of lightning split the sky in two.
"What's happening?" Pam yelled as she shot out of the girl's hut, looking desperately around.
"We got washed out!" Michael explained, grabbing for Dean, who had slipped, losing half of the things he'd managed to hang on to. Their nail clippers, knife and three shirts were instantly washed away as another set of waves crashed ashore, nearly pulling all three of them with it as it receded back to the angry ocean.
"Jesus Christ!" Pam yelled, holding on for dear life to a tree. She felt a hand on her back and turned to see a wind and rain-swept Denny, spitting water out of her mouth.
"We've got to get to higher ground!" the brunette yelled, her words swallowed by the loudest crack of thunder any of them had ever heard. When the noise had returned to just ridiculous, she repeated herself. The veterinarian nodded, then turned back to Michael, who no longer stood next to her. She was barley able to make out the outline of the two men who were screaming into the wind, down by the shore.
"Grab it! Fucking grab it!" the mechanic yelled, teeth bared as he tried to get a hold of the edge of the raft, which was quickly being pulled out to sea. "We can't lose this!"
"Michael, I can't hold on!" Dean yelled, quickly losing his grip. He grasped desperately for some sort of purchase, but the rain-slicked rubber and forceful winds and waves were making it near impossible. "I can't-"
"No! Hold on, goddamn it! We can't lose this, God damn you!" Michael felt frantic, as though their only hope of ever leaving the island was literally slipping through his fingers. He felt like crying as he knew he was losing his grip. "No!"
"Michael!" Dean felt his heart sink when a strong wave crashed over them, taking the raft and Michael back out to sea with it. Without a second thought, the attorney threw himself at the larger man, managing to grab his legs, and not dare letting go. "Hold on, Michael! I've got you!"
Michael spit out a mouthful of salt water, feeling it burn his eyes and the insides of his nose and throat. Another wave crashed down over him, making him panic as the feeling of not being able to breathe or move washed through him. He felt something tight around his legs, almost painfully so. Over the roar of the surf he could make out a word now and then- got you… swim… help m!
Dean pulled with all his might, finally able to gain his feet during a very short reprieve, though he could see the waves building once more.
"We've got to help him!" Pam cried, about to run out to the beach, but she was stopped by a hand to her shoulder, then another grabbing a handful of her pant leg.
"No!" Mia said, staring the older woman down as the vet turned to see who had dared to stop her. She was face to face with fierce, dark eyes. "We need to save ourselves! What good is it if we all die? We have to survive!"
The older woman was so stunned, all she could do was nod dumbly. Snapping back into action, she could just barely see Denny and Rachel disappear into the jungle, a wet, slimy trail of mud and leaves turned to mush in their wake. One last glance over her shoulder, she could see that Dean had managed to pull Michael into waist-deep water.
"I'm not going to let you die, damn it!" the attorney screamed into the wind, using every ounce of muscle and energy he had to pull the Texan to shore before the next wave got to them first. Using near super-human strength, he threw the larger man back to shallow depths, quickly splashing after him, grabbing a kneeling Michael around the waist, and lifting him to his shoulders, like a fireman, running out onto shore, ignoring the fire in his back and legs, and the whipping of rain and wind at his face.
Finally making it out of the surf, and into the jungle, the attorney set the mechanic onto his butt under an under hang, then collapsed down next to him.
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