Jonathan woke with a start as the chorus of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell blared from somewhere on the yacht. Fucking Charles and his loud music was enough to make him homesick and even miss their parents. At least they would have prevented the earsplitting music. One thing was for sure, Jonathan wasn’t going to fall back asleep, so he stretched and sat on the edge of the bed.
“It’s winter in Connecticut,” he muttered, as if that knowledge would make spending another week on the boat with his brother more bearable. He snorted and shook his head. That had to be the ultimate definition of privilege—pitying himself for spending his holiday on a yacht in the South Pacific instead of in snowy, picturesque New England.
Blame it on being stressed after a tough first semester as a university freshman trying to be the star pupil everyone expected him to be. Not that he was a poor student. He did well, but it took a lot of effort. It would help if he felt free to pursue subjects that actually interested him instead of the business classes his father insisted upon.
It would also help his stress level if he didn’t feel virtually trapped in a closet, terrified to acknowledge his sexuality to his uber-conservative parents. They would never understand his attraction to men in general, and especially to flaming Zachary in particular. He buried his face in his hands and groaned in frustration.
And of course, it didn’t help that he and Charles were both fully aware that their parents had wanted to go on a European holiday without them and had sent them on this excursion as a way to assuage their guilt—if they even felt any remorse for ditching them over Christmas and New Years. Whatever. He was old enough to handle it. Being two years younger than Jonathan, no doubt it was harder for Charles.
He sighed, threw on some clothes, grabbed the book he’d been reading (What Happened to Flight 3012?), and went up to the main deck. Wonderful. The booming tunes were louder up here.
He found Charles sitting in the lounge, feet up, eating some kind of breakfast sandwich. “For pity’s sake, lower the volume.”
Charles rolled his eyes, but the request had the desired effect. “I need to convince the ’rents to install better soundproofing,” he grumbled.
“Yeah, good luck with that.” Jonathan didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of his tone. He poured himself a cup of coffee and relaxed into the curve of the couch.
“That title is misleading.” Charles gestured toward the book Jonathan had placed beside himself. “It blew up. Everybody knows that.”
“It’s more complicated than that. There are a lot of questions. Anyway, the book explains about what is known, explores the open questions, and gives a little bio on each of the people who were on board.”
Charles shuddered. “How morbid.”
“It’s interesting. I think we’re close to where that one outlier life vest was found floating.”
“What? The one that was picked up by trade winds and dropped far from the crash site? How do you know we’re near there?”
Jonathan sighed. “The alleged crash site. And I know because I’ve been paying attention to the coordinates of where we are, and I know which direction we’re heading.”
Charles jumped up. “You know what? This day is looking up. Let’s go on a high seas adventure!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Seriously, the contrast between levelheaded Jonathan and his impetuous younger brother had never been more evident.
“Let’s trace back up-current from where that was found and see what we can find.”
“Uh, mostly we’ll just find lots and lots of water.”
“Mostly…I’ll give you that. But anything will be an improvement over sitting around idly watching the water go by. We can at least imagine we’re on a rescue mission or something.”
For fuck’s sake. Jonathan closed his eyes and counted to ten. “Okay. Play something calmer and softer than AC/DC for the rest of the trip and I’ll back you up on the detour request.”
“Deal.” Charles bounced in place. “Come on. Bring your book with the coordinates and shit.”
Jonathan followed Charles to the bridge deck and they spoke to the captain, who didn’t seem like he could care any less, one way or another, about the whims of the children of the rich people who’d hired him and his crew. “Sure,” he said with a lift to one shoulder. “We’re barely due east of that spot now. It won’t affect our schedule much to travel east a little more before turning back toward Hawaii.”
“Fantastic,” Charles said. Turning to Jonathan he added, “Let’s grab some binoculars.”
The captain cleared his throat. “Nothing’s still going to be floating after all these years. And even if it was, it would be far from here by now.” How the man managed to keep a straight face and even tone was a mystery to Jonathan.
But Charles’ cheerful mood refused to be dimmed. He snagged a couple pairs of binoculars and Jonathan followed him back to the main deck. “Are you proud of me?” Charles plopped onto the couch with an amused grin on his face.
“Not telling that smug bastard where he could shove his superior attitude.”
“Sure,” Jonathan said. Thankful anyway, if not precisely proud.
“Or you, for that matter.”
Jonathan didn’t bother replying to Charles’ barb, and instead said, “The life vest was found about a month after the crash, so even if the plane managed to cripple its way north to somewhere east of here before finally ditching in the ocean, you’ve got to factor in how long it would’ve taken the current to drag the vest here from there.”
“Yeah, I know, and of course I know there won’t be anything still visible in the water. I don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that. I figure there’s little uncharted islands around, so maybe there’s survivors on one.”
“Okay,” Jonathan said. He might as well humor Charles. There wasn’t anything more interesting to do. “Factoring in the float-rate of something like that life vest, which would have been low-floating flotsom for most of the duration, and our speed backtracking its route, it’ll probably be midday tomorrow before coming across any islands that would’ve been close enough to the crash site.”
“Assuming that life vest went in the water at the time of the crash.”
Jonathan just stared and raised an eyebrow.
“Think about it.” Charles waved his arms animatedly. He was really getting into this. “If we’d washed up on an island, we’d have probably had life vests ourselves, right? We wouldn’t immediately toss them into the ocean after getting there. We’d keep them. But, then after a few weeks with no rescue in sight, maybe we’d start floating them out, one by one, hoping someone would pick one up and trace it back to find us.”
“Okay.” Jonathan had to admit that scenario made sense if it were the case that there were survivors on an island. Not that he thought there was actually a snowball’s chance in hell that the plane hadn’t been blown to smithereens despite the wild theories the book espoused. “So it could be some time today.”
Obviously, they wouldn’t actually stumble upon an island full of survivors today, and Charles would insist they continue tomorrow until they’d followed the path back beyond what the math indicated was reasonable. Then they could turn back toward Hawaii. They had plenty of wiggle room before their scheduled flight home, so all it meant was less time for them to spend there before flying home to Connecticut.
“Exactly,” Charles said.
Jonathan approached the side table that contained a chafer dish and a covered bowl on ice. He placed one of the breakfast sandwiches from the chafer on his plate. The contents of the cool bowl consisted of a fruit salad. He took a sample of some of each of the kinds of fresh fruit in the mix.
Charles was already scanning the horizon with the binoculars when Jonathan settled back on the couch. He went back and forth between the starboard and port sides as Jonathan savored his breakfast.
“You know,” Jonathan said. “Best case scenario it’ll be at least a few hours. If they were this close to the typical boating lanes they’d have been discovered before now.”
Charles turned and leaned against the rail. “Good point.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, I don’t want to spend the rest of today and tomorrow second guessing whether or not we passed them by while I wasn’t looking.”
Jonathan spent the next couple hours alternating between reading his book and taking the occasional turn at the rails searching the ocean for any sign of treetops. Charles had pegged the section that gave a brief bio of the victims correctly when he’d said it was morbid. The images of the happy little children whose lives had been snuffed out in that crash was disheartening. In some cases, whole families had been wiped out, and in others, it was one half of a couple, or young adults just starting their lives. Most of the passengers had been heading to Fiji on vacation, including a trio of college football players. A few were on business trips. A scientist had been on a research trip.
Late-afternoon, Jonathan put the book down and scanned the port side horizon. On the starboard side, facing south, Charles yelped, then frantically waved Jonathan over. “Look! Look! Over there. That’s tree tops, isn’t it?” He pointed toward a spot south and east of their location.
With the binoculars, Jonathan could just make out what Charles was referring to. “Go point it out to the captain,” he said.
Charles ran off while Jonathan kept an eye on the spot. It was far enough south they’d almost missed it. Just because there was an island, didn’t mean there was anybody on it, let alone survivors of that long-ago plane crash. Hopefully Charles wouldn’t be too let down when it ended up being deserted.
Although, the location did fit with Charles’ theory, and even factored in that any life vest loosed from the island in later weeks might well have traveled a little to the northeast in those trade winds before deflating enough to settle in the water and simply drift with the current.
A ripple of excitement traveled through Jonathan. Charles’ enthusiasm was contagious, even though he didn’t hold the same hope Charles apparently did. It was fun to imagine the prospect of couples and families being reunited after five years being separated, thinking their loved ones had died.
He smiled. How gratifying would it be to actually be a part of such a rescue? To be a part of having pointedly undertaken the mission, not simply stumbling upon them. In his privileged life, and living under his father’s influence, it was a wonder he’d developed any simple human decency or empathy at all. He could credit their nanny for what he had.
He shuddered to think about the legal ramifications concerning how the authorities had brushed off that clue of the lone life vest with that—admittedly plausible—explanation, rather than create a new search zone.
Sure, it had been a full month after the crash, and they’d already spent a mint on the search, but as simple as it was for two amateurs on a single boat to track it back, in hindsight there would be hell to pay.
The yacht turned toward the spot on the horizon, and Jonathan joined the others on the bridge deck, the better to see forward, plus it was higher, so easier to see into the distance.
Charles turned to him. “The captain says it’s not on the charts, so it’s got potential.”
The captain’s cheek twitched, but he managed not to break his staid demeanor.
As they approached the island, Jonathan, Charles, and the first mate and a deck hand all kept binoculars glued to their eyes. Apparently, Charles’ animation was affecting the crew, too.
When they were close enough to make out more details, the first mate said, “I don’t see anyone.”
The deck hand said, “Yeah, but they’d probably hang out on the south side this time of year to avoid the sun.”
“Good point,” Charles said.
“Are those darker trails through the sand maybe where someone’s been walking?” Jonathan asked. Could Charles actually be right about this?
“Hmm.” The first mate stiffened. “Maybe.”
Long minutes passed, and the island got bigger. “Yeah,” the deckhand said. “I think you’re right. Those trails are from people walking.”
“That island’s too small for anybody to be living there on purpose.” The captain moved a lever, slowing the boat’s progress. “Not for any legit reasons, anyway. I’ll bet there’s something fishy going on there. We’ll call the Coast Guard to check it out instead of barreling in there ourselves.”
The first mate’s brow wrinkled. “Yes, if the island’s actually occupied, that’s the only reasonable thing to do. We’re not equipped to deal with drug smugglers.”
“But they’re not there on purpose!” Charles said.
The captain shook his head. “If it is castaways, they’ve survived this long, they’ll last another day.”
“Aw, come on!”
Jonathan laid a hand on Charles’ shoulder as the captain turned the boat around. “They’re right. The odds of there being a criminal presence here is probably greater than it being castaways.”
“But we’re only here because we tracked evidence from the plane crash to get here! It’s gotta be them.”
Jonathan kept his tone sympathetic. “Wanting it to be them isn’t the same as it likely being them. It would be dangerous to go closer. What if they have a fast cruiser docked on the other side? Automatic weapons?”
Frankly, now that the idea had occurred to him, he was glad the captain was turning. It was a scary thought. What had started as a lark could easily turn into a nightmare.
“Wait!” Charles shouted and pointed. His binoculars were back up at his eyes. “Drug smugglers wouldn’t be naked, would they?”
Everyone turned to look back at the island. A very tanned and indeed naked blond man was walking around the western bend of the island. He had a hand shading his eyes as he scanned the horizon.
Jonathan knew the instant the man spotted them. The man stopped and froze for a moment, then ran toward them frantically waving his arms. Jonathan couldn’t hear him at this distance, but he appeared to be shouting.
Charles bounced. “Holy shit! Smugglers wouldn’t do that. Turn back! Turn back!”
“That’s no smuggler,” the first mate confirmed. “That guy’s marooned.”
“Agreed,” the captain said as he once again turned the yacht around.
Two more naked men and a child—a boy—ran around the western side of the island, apparently in response to the blond man’s shouts. The three men all waved desperately while the child huddled against one of them.
“Huh,” the captain said. “I’ll be damned.” He tooted the horn, a loud blast that they surely heard.
The group stopped waving and instead joined hands and jumped gleefully.
Jonathan’s heart thumped as he struggled to breath evenly. These people may or may not be from TransOceanic flight 3012, but they were clearly castaways from something.
The sound of the horn drew the rest of the crew—the service people—to the bridge. The deck hand joined them and explained the situation. As they continued toward the island, the captain got on the radio to alert the Coast Guard.
“Holy shit,” Charles said again. He gripped Jonathan’s arm, and his eyes glistened with unshed tears as he gazed into Jonathan’s eyes. “We did a good thing,” he whispered.
“You did,” Jonathan choked out around the lump in his throat. Maybe he and Charles had more in common that he’d though. Poles apart personalities, but their characters aligned. “You get all the credit.”
Charles shook his head. “You could’ve squashed it. You didn’t.”
Jonathan turned back to the island. That was true. On the surface, he’d merely been humoring Charles, but underneath, he’d loved the idea of it being true, even though he’d not believed it possible. Even so, it wouldn’t have happened without Charles.
They’d have to drop anchor soon and take the small boats in. Likely only crew would get to do that. Charles would be disappointed, but he’d get over it. Charles elbowed him. “Hey, fetch that book. Let’s see if we can figure out who they are before they get aboard.”
Jonathan scurried back to the main deck where he’d left it. It even had a seating chart, which might be helpful. If the plane had gone down quickly, the survivors could maybe be narrowed down to people located near the exit rows.
When he got back to the bridge, Charles was grinning ear to ear. Jonathan patted his shoulder and repeated Charles’ earlier words. “You did a good thing.”
“We,” Charles said. Then he leaned in and whispered in Jonathan’s ear. “Zachary will be so proud of you.”
Jonathan’s breath caught. Charles knew?
But Charles’ eyes were still merry. Certainly nothing malicious about his expression. Charles had already moved on. That’s how much of a non-issue it was for him. He was busy alternating between staring through the binoculars and flipping between the bios and the seating chart.
“Look at Blondie,” Charles said. “Check out his Husker tattoo. Bet he’s one of those three Nebraska football players.” He pointed to the biography for Devon Engels. “This kinda looks like that guy, don’t you think? And he was sitting right on top of an exit door.”
Jonathan grinned back at his brother, and the thrill of this momentous occasion was further lifted by the relief of knowing Charles knew the real him and clearly didn’t give a flying fuck that he had a boyfriend. In less than a day, his life had unexpectedly turned from gloomy to hopeful. And that was nothing compared to the changes these four strangers were about to experience.
Henry and Sam Miller-Greene are living the dream. They love their careers — which afford each of them opportunities to travel to exotic locations — they love their home, Sam’s caring family, and each other. They disagree on the subject of adoption, but are fully committed to each other in marriage … ’Til Death Do Us Part.
The dream is shattered when Henry’s plane crashes, and he’s presumed dead. But four people — Henry, two other men, and a child — survive undetected on a remote, small, and insignificant island. Will Sam and Henry’s love be able to survive as well?
Henry fights to endure in harsh conditions, never knowing when disaster will strike. Sam struggles with his loss, but with help moves on with his life. Will Sam be able to put aside his new love when he reunites with Henry?