My “hot flash” short story, Okay, Then will be released as a single on February 9. Okay, Then details the first date of Sam and Henry from ’Til Death Do Us Part. Needless to say, this has me in the mood for all things related to that series.
Instead of posting another snippet or excerpt from the story for Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d repost the ALTERNATE UNIVERSE rescue scene that I wrote a year ago. It’s told in five parts, below.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The action in this Alternate Universe scene starts before (and replaces) the rescue scene told in the book. The action in this scene is NOT consistent with the published story, and CANNOT be considered a missing scene. If this scene had happened, the book would be different. The characters Jonathan and Charles, etc. from the yacht do not exist in the published book.
I don’t think it matters whether or not you’ve read ’Til Death Do Us Part before reading these bonus scenes. It’s not overly spoilery because we know from the blurb that at least Henry eventually gets rescued, and since this scene takes place before the book’s rescue scene, you don’t really know what may or may not have happened in the interim for the remaining castaways. Some of the castaways’ families’ revelations are the same, some are not given in the book, some are different because of the different timing of this rescue. People who’ve already read the novel will know the differences, people who haven’t won’t.
Uses the prompt words (homesick – stressed – winter) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 20 prompt words (wonderful – asleep – parent – pupil – sample – legal – closet – install – consist – main – virtually – mostly – improvement – separated – highway – superior – back – contrast – just – understand) from a random word generator.
Told from Jonathan’s 3rd-person POV:
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 backasleep, 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, and I doubt they’d hang out on the south side this time of year.”
The deck hand said, “Yeah, but this time of day they could be on the eastern beach 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 from the eastern 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.
Uses the prompt words/phrase (home sweet home – rescue – safe – unknown) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 10 prompt words (family – worm – momentum – dominant – statement – chicken – recovery – chalk – pass – main – frequency) from a random word generator.
Told from Jonathan’s 3rd-person POV:
Lowering his binoculars, Jonathan looked once more at the image Charles was pointing to in the book, What Happened to Flight 3012? “Yeah, I think you’re right. That’s the blond guy.”
That confirmed it. These people were survivors of the TransOceanic Flight 3012 plane crash, not random castaways.
Jonathan added, “Take a good look at that older guy’s nose. It’s distinctive. I remember it from one of the photos, too.”
Charles shoved the book toward Jonathan. “Find him.” Charles vibrated with excitement as he lifted his binoculars again.
Captain Barton fiddled with the frequency control on the radio. He was still speaking with the coast guard as the crew dropped anchor and readied the dinghies to go out to the island.
“Hey,” Jonathan cocked his head at Charles. “Go grab some of our clothes for them.”
“Right.” Charles ran toward the staircase that led down to the main deck, then continued below to the cabins.
Jonathan found the image he’d just mentioned to Charles: Garrett Pinkham. Together with Devon Engels, that was two they’d tentatively identified. Devon had been seated next to the starboard wing exit door, and Garrett had been in an aisle seat one row behind and across the aisle from Devon. Close enough for it to make sense that they’d both escaped a quickly sinking plane and possibly been near each other in the water.
He took another look through the binoculars at the third man. Likely the dreadlocks he was sporting had developed since the accident. Nothing about the man stood out in Jonathan’s memory from his flip through the hundreds of photos and bios. It would be faster to look at others in the same vicinity on the seating chart and compare those specific photos to dreadlocks-guy.
Charles wore a face-splitting grin when he bounded back up to the bridge deck. Below in the water, the two motorized dinghies sped toward the island with the first mate, Dominick, at the helm of one, and a deck hand, Irvin, on the other. The recovery mission was underway.
“I grabbed some of our linen drawstring pants. Figured that was the best bet for reasonable fit. They can pick out shirts when they get aboard. Added my longest but tightest T-shirt for the kid to wear. He’s out of luck on pants.”
“Cool.” Jonathan pointed to an image in the book. “This is the guy with the nose.” He flipped to another page and pointed to a man named Henry Miller-Green. “I think this is the guy with the dreadlocks.” Turning to the seating chart he pointed again. “Here and here are where they were sitting.”
Jonathan’s pick for the guy with dreadlocks had been seated directly across the aisle from Garrett/nose-guy, in the aisle seat in the row behind Devon/blond guy. He was also one of several whose bio indicated he fell under the rainbow flag. He was married to another man. Being firmly in the closet himself, Jonathan was instantly drawn to this man who’d apparently lived his life openly and proudly.
Charles nodded. “I think you’re right. Any luck ID-ing the kid?”
“Not really. Hard to tell his age, and there were several blond toddlers and babies on board—none particularly close to that exit.”
“Okay.” Charles bounced in place.
They stood side-by-side staring at the activity onshore. The yacht had moored off the eastern side, up-current from the island. As the dinghies got close to the island, in shallower water, Dominick and Irvin cut and tilted up the motors so the blades would be safe above the coral, and allowed the boats’ momentum to carry them in the rest of the way.
Two of the men helped pull the boats ashore. Dreadlocks had his hands full of freaked-out kid.
“I never in a million years thought we’d actually rescue anyone when you talked me into going along with this,” Jonathan said. That was an understatement. He’d figured the odds at precisely zero.
“Gotta admit, I didn’t expect it either. Chalk it up to dumb luck. I didn’t honestly think there were any survivors out there, and seriously, it was a needle in a haystack, even calculating the likely path of that life jacket.”
“I know, right?” If they’d been traveling east on a path just a tiny bit farther north from where they’d been, they would have passed by the island without ever suspecting how close they’d been. So much of what was in that book he’d been reading was unknown. The location of that one outlier life jacket had been a fact, though. But the book’s theory for its presence where it had been found was considered pure speculation that veered sharply from the official conclusion.
Charles heaved a heavy sigh punctuated by a snort of laughter. “I guess I’m more mature that I thought.”
Jonathan raised a brow in his brother’s direction. “How’s that?”
“I’m refraining from live-Tweeting all this. Gotta admit, part of me wants to.”
With the top-of-the-line satellite dish their parents had installed on the yacht, they had the Wi-Fi to make that a possibility. Live-Tweeting this rescue would’ve been insensitive, though, giving false hope to the hundreds of families whose loved ones were not on the island. And it was definitely not the method of choice to deliver the happy news to the families of these four.
“Nah, you wouldn’t be that crass.”
“I did Tweet what we were doing early on, when it was just a lark, but nothing from when we spotted the island or after.”
“That’s okay. Nobody’ll take that seriously.”
On the island, the crew debarked from the dinghies, and the castaways put on the clothes Charles had sent out. They talked together in a group for a moment, then Dominick spoke into his handheld radio, probably confirming to the captain who the castaways were so the info could be relayed to the coast guard. After he put the radio away on his belt holster, all six of them trooped into the island interior.
“Huh,” Charles said.
“Maybe they have some…I don’t know…stuff to collect and bring with them?”
“Yeah. Right. Scraps of the kid’s clothes would help ID him if he was too young to know his name. They might have stuff like that.”
“Good point,” Jonathan replied.
“Hey, Captain?” Charles said.
Captain Barton turned toward them. “Charles?”
“Did they radio in the names of the people on the island.”
“Are they Devon Engels, Garrett Pinkham, and Henry Miller-Greene?”
The captain’s eyes widened. “I’m impressed.”
Charles laughed. “We haven’t figured out the kid, though.”
“They don’t know either. But, they’ve got his clothes, so that’ll help.”
The people on the island emerged from the trees. They had more than a few scraps of clothing with them. The group trooped out with each of the four castaways carrying a basket they’d apparently made on the island. The crew members would know the customs rules against bringing back any plants, plant seeds, fruits, or vegetables, so presumably there wouldn’t be anything like that inside the baskets.
They piled into the dinghies and set off.
“Come on.” Charles nudged Jonathan with an elbow. “Let’s go down and meet them.”
The emotions Jonathan read on the castaways’ faces as the dinghies pulled into dock in the yacht was an interesting mix. The kid was terrified. Jonathan couldn’t see his expression since his face was burrowed into Henry’s neck, but together with his tense body language, that told the tale. The kid’s fear wasn’t really a surprise once Jonathan thought about it. The little guy was young enough that that tiny island and those three men were probably all he knew.
Devon’s face reflected unrestrained glee. His smile was wide and echoed in his eyes. He’d just finished his freshman year at college, and although he obviously couldn’t waltz back into his old life as a linebacker for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, he hadn’t been married, or even in a relationship—at least the bio hadn’t mentioned any— so he had no worries in that direction. He was young enough that starting anew wasn’t a huge concern.
Garrett and Henry, however, were both married. Obviously, their spouses thought they’d died, and may or may not have entered into new relationships, or even remarried. The two men’s tight expressions reflected their guarded happiness and relief with a hint of hope.
“Welcome,” Jonathan said as he hauled in the dinghy with Dominick, Henry, and the kid. Charles did the same with the other one.
Henry met his gaze. “Thank you,” His voice wavered with just those two words.
“I’m Jonathan, by the way.” Gesturing with an arm, he added, “And that’s my brother, Charles. You’re Henry, right?”
“Right. You have no idea how happy I am to meet you.” The words were accompanied by a wobbly chuckle. “We call this little guy, Buddy.”
When the boats were stabilized, he helped Henry and Buddy out. Behind him, Charles had the other two men already aboard. The rest of the introductions were quickly facilitated, then Charles, the younger but more dominant personality between the two brothers, took charge.
“This way,” he said, leading them toward the stairway.
“Be sure to take them to see the captain, first,” Dominick said. “He needs to take some pictures and send them to the coast guard.”
“Of course,” Charles replied.
Even though Captain Barton was well-respected, no doubt images would go a long way toward confirming this wasn’t some kind of hoax. The families might want that reassurance, even if the coast guard officers didn’t.
They trooped up to the bridge deck, and the captain greeted them. “Welcome aboard the Sea-e-oh. I’m Captain Felix Barton. I see you’ve met the owner’s sons, Jonathan and Charles Fitch. They’ll act as your hosts, and rest assured, these two will see to it that you’re very comfortable for this first leg of your journey back to home sweet home.”
He went on to explain that they would rendezvous with a coast guard long-range cutter tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, since they had that kick-ass satellite dish, the captain could snap a handful of pictures and send it to the coast guard’s base using the yacht’s Wi-Fi.
Henry requested the captain relay that he wanted to adopt the kid, and wanted to make sure steps were undertaken to ensure Buddy wouldn’t be wrenched away from him the moment they hit land.
Lights came on throughout the yacht as the sun began its vertical dive into the ocean. The first quarter half-moon was high in the sky, and soon would be joined by more stars than seemed possible.
Although Buddy continued to keep his face mostly buried in Henry’s neck, he was now taking surreptitious glances at his surroundings. Jonathan smiled and winked at the kid when their gazes met.
The kid made a false start to rebury his face, but stopped himself from completing the maneuver. Instead he remained peeking at him from over Henry’s shoulder. Buddy was cute, and Jonathan’s grin widened as he admired the kid’s show of spunk in the face of his fear. Buddy was already beginning to worm his way into Jonathan’s heart.
Captain Barton seemed to be finished, so Jonathan asked, “Are you guys hungry? We’re still a couple hours away from our usual dinner time, but, if you’re hungry we can raid the galley.”
Devon said, “Actually, we just ate, but I’m sure we can do justice to another light meal in a couple hours.”
“Is chicken all right?” Charles asked. “I think that’s what’s on the menu tonight.”
“Chicken sounds wonderful. Thank you,” Garrett said. “And no need to do anything special before then.”
Henry merely nodded his agreement.
“Great.” Charles clapped his hands together. “How about we go down to our cabins and get you guys some shirts, and we can see which cabins are being set up for you. Get you situated.”
“Captain?” Jonathan asked.
“Do you know how long before their families will be notified? Could the coast guard maybe alert you when that’s been done? These guys could make Skype calls to their families while they’re here with us, but I’m sure they don’t want to freak anyone out by doing that before the families have been alerted.”
The captain nodded. “I’ll check on that and let you know. I’m sure they’re moving quickly since our radio communication wasn’t private. I’ll get those photos sent immediately so that won’t slow them down.”
“Thank you,” Jonathan replied.
Charles led the way, and he, Jonathan, and the castaways paraded down the stairway.
Uses the prompt words/phrase (tea – fuzzy socks – cardigan) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 5 prompt words (choke – place – sticks – trite – tough) from a random word generator.
Told from Devon’s 3rd-person POV:
Devon sat back and rubbed his belly. Even though they’d eaten just a couple hours ago on the island, it wasn’t as if he’d needed to force himself to choke down a second dinner of real food. Hell no, this meal had been so welcomed.
He’d been dreaming of a big juicy steak for years, but this chicken dish prepared by a fancy chef on this swanky-assed yacht totally hit the spot. No doubt it was a trite sentiment, but he probably could’ve cheerfully eaten a tough old horse.
Henry said, “I didn’t realize how much I missed something as simple as roasted potatoes. These are so good.”
Devon nodded. “Sticks to your ribs better than seaweed, that’s for sure!”
The kids smiled, and the older one, Jonathan, said, “Please have as much as you want.”
It was weird thinking of them as “kids,” considering Devon had been only about half a year older than Jonathan when that plane had gone down. He’d done a damned lot of growing up in those years, though.
The first mate, Dominick, stepped into the room. “Good evening, gentlemen. We’ve just received word from the coast guard.”
Movement in the room ground to a halt. Buddy had a fork perched halfway to his mouth as he stared with wide eyes at Dominick.
“Yes?” Charles, the younger of the two brothers who were their hosts on the yacht prompted.
“Families have all been notified. They were told you have Wi-Fi access until your transfer to the coast guard cutter, and they’re standing by waiting to hear from you. In case numbers have been forgotten, they gave us their contact information.”
He proceeded to hand a slip of paper to each of the three adult survivors. Henry looked terrified. Garrett stoic. Devon executed a fist pump. Unlike the other two, he didn’t have a marriage partner back home with the relationship status up in the air.
“Yes!” Devon said. “I can’t wait to talk to them.”
He glanced at his paper. It contained both the house phone number he recognized and Skype account info for one of his younger brothers. Yeah, he was totally going with Skype if that was an option.
“The Wi-Fi’s strong enough to video chat?” Devon asked.
“It is,” Jonathan assured him. “Though it might be best to stagger them rather than all attempt calls simultaneously to assure good quality.”
“Oh yeah, sure,” Devon said.
Garrett and Henry shared a glance then Garrett said, “How about you go first, Devon.”
“Awesome. Thanks.” Devon stood. “I won’t stay on too long so your families won’t be kept waiting.”
They nodded their agreement, and Jonathan led him to a private room and picked up an iPad. “Skype?” he asked.
Jonathan swiped a couple times and opened an app. “It’s logged into my account, you can use that to make the call.” He handed the tablet to Devon. “I’ll be just down the hall with the others if you run into any trouble.”
“Great. Thanks a bunch.”
Devon stared at the tablet in his shaky hands. This was it. He was about to talk to…see his family for the first time in almost five years. He closed his eyes and bounced in place for a moment, then opened them and paced as he punched in his brother Dante’s info. It was what…probably almost three in the morning in Wichita? No doubt they were pretty wired at the moment, though.
The call was answered almost immediately. He laughed, and happy tears streamed down his face at the chaos of all the bodies jamming in to get a look at him, then the confusion of everyone talking at once.
“Settle down!” Devon’s dad finally said. “One at a time. Let your mother talk to him first.”
The noise level receded, and they still crowded around, but Mom was shifted to the front. Her eyes were red and drippy.
“I hope those are happy tears,” Devon said. Of course, they were, but ribbing each other was how his family rolled. Not even, but rather especially during emotional times.
“I should ground you for the rest of your life for putting me through that,” Mom said. If she was trying to smother that smile to feign reproach, she was failing miserably.
Devon snorted. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve been punished enough.”
Mom put a hand to her chest. “Where’s my tea? Someone bring me that mug before I faint again.”
Devon cleared his throat as Mom shook her head and just stared at him as if drinking in the sight. She pulled the ends of her cardigan together. He was in the tropics, but it was the middle of winter back home. He could picture the fuzzy socks that would be covering her feet and couldn’t suppress a grin at the homey thought.
“So tell me about my funeral,” Devon said.
That got a round of laughter, and Dad replied, “Dante bawled. You’d’ve loved it.”
“Did not!” Dante retorted, but judging by all the cuffs he got, and the chorus of “Oh my God,” and “Don’t even try to deny it,” and “cried like a little guuuurrrl,” Devon was inclined to believe his dad.
“Please tell me there’s a recording.”
“Shut up!” Dante said. Everyone else fell into another fit of laughter, so there probably was.
Yeah, there was no place like home.
“Awesome,” Devon said. “Well, listen, we’ve got to stagger our calls, and I got to go first. Everyone else’s family is waiting to hear from them. Will I see you guys when the coast guard gets us to Hawaii, or not until I get back home?”
“Hawaii,” Mom replied. “They’ll call us in the morning with details.”
“Fantastic. Love you guys. I’ll see you in a few days, then.”
“Love you, too, Sweetie.” Mom choked up again, and Dad, and Devon’s brothers all nodded and mumbled words to the same effect.
After disconnecting, Devon took a couple deep breaths and placed the tablet on the table. He wiped the back of his hands across his eyes and returned to the room where the others were waiting.
Uses the prompt words/phrase (lunch – Batman) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.
Told from Garrett’s 3rd-person POV:
Garrett turned to Henry. “Why don’t you go next?”
Henry shook his head. “Go on. You’ve got kids. Don’t keep them waiting.”
True enough. Even though Garrett’s oldest, Grant, would be in college now, he would still be home for the winter break. They were all likely to be home waiting for his call.
As much as both Garrett and Henry were each uneasy, worrying about the status of their respective marriages, torn between dreading and wanting to know, he had no such worries about seeing his children. Not beyond the pangs that had dogged him during his darkest moments over their five years on the island. Fears of bad things happening—illness, accidents—with Garrett completely in the dark about the personal horrors his family might have faced.
Most likely, they were all healthy, so he pushed that worry away and stood. “I won’t linger. Sam will be anxious to hear from you, too.”
He turned and followed Jonathan to a private room where Jonathan picked up an iPad. “You want to make a voice call or a video call?”
The only number on the slip of paper he’d been given was a mobile number he still remembered. “Sarah—my wife—is probably still using an iPhone. I’d like to try Facetime if that’s all right.” He trembled, thinking of seeing them all again in person. He wanted to hug each of them and never let them go—the opposite of his often-reserved behavior in the past. Facetime paled in comparison, but he wouldn’t pass on the opportunity to at least see their faces as well as hear their voices.
“Absolutely.” Jonathan swiped and selected an app, then handed the tablet to Garrett. “I’ll be down the hall with the others if you have any problems.”
“Thank you.” He sat and took a deep breath, positioned the screen to frame his over-tanned face and scraggly hair, and dialed.
Within seconds, Sarah’s face materialized on the screen. Her free hand moved to cover her mouth when she saw him. No doubt his appearance was shocking even with the photos she’d have seen by now. Before the plane crash he’d always been a well-groomed professional. He was probably barely recognizable in his current state.
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears—or perhaps the remains of previously shed tears, judging by the red puffiness surrounding them. Whatever her current married state, the news of his survival would have been staggering and would dredge up all manner of emotions.
“Sarah.” He recognized the setting. She was in the dining room of the home they’d shared. His breath caught. Could that be a sign that she hadn’t remarried? It didn’t rule it out, but…that was her left hand covering her mouth, and it was ring-less. He grinned as the apprehension that had tightened his muscles drained away.
“Oh, Garrett.” She voice wobbled, and she turned her gaze off-camera. “Come around here, kids, so you can see.”
Likely she’d been expecting a voice call, and they’d assembled around the table, planning to put it on speaker.
Michaela’s face was the first that came into view. Her expression morphed quickly from wary, to startled, to cheery. “Dad! Oh my God! It really is you!”
Garrett choked up. “Michaela.” She was so grown up now—a teenager. There was so much he wanted to know. Was she still taking dance lessons? Did she still sing in the shower, and conveniently “forget” to bring the lunches Sarah packed, then buy the school’s offerings instead? Had she followed through with her plans to try out for that intramural soccer team? Instead he settled for saying, “I thought about you every day.”
Her face scrunched. “I missed you, Daddy.”
Grant and Evan came into view. They did a better job guarding their expressions.
“Wow.” Evan grinned. “You’ve…ah…changed, Dad.”
Garrett laughed. Evan always did have a sense of humor, and it was no surprise it was slipping in to cover his emotions. A tear slid down Garrett’s face. “So have you.” He shook his head. “There were days I thought I’d never see all of you again. I can hardly believe it’s over.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” Grant said. “Except I love you and missed you.”
Evan nodded. “How’d you do it? How’d you survive on that little island?”
“I love you guys, too.” Garrett took a shuddering breath. “Well, we all played a part. Devon was toolmaker and fisherman, Henry collected the rest of our food and prepared it, and I was the resident weaver. I made our safety ropes, fishing nets, sun hats, walls for our shelter. That kind of thing.”
“He’s like Superman,” A small voice, off camera said.
A child? His brow creased. Maybe Sarah had remarried after all. But no…he relaxed again, remembering the ring-less hand. Even if she had, the man was out of the picture now. A corner of his mouth turned up. Having a young child at home might help ease the sting of losing Buddy.
“More like Batman,” Michaela said. “Since he doesn’t have actual superpowers, he just had stuff to help him.”
“No,” Evan said. “He’s MacGyver. He didn’t have fancy gadgets, he figured stuff out to make his own.”
“Oh, right,” Michaela said.
Garrett grinned at their banter. Mostly he was just a regular guy who’d done what he could to contribute to their survival and comfort.
Sarah beckoned off screen, “It’s okay. Come on.”
A young boy climbed onto Sarah’s lap and warily eyed the phone. Sarah smiled. “Garrett, I’d like you to meet Garrett, Jr. I was going to tell you about him in Fiji.”
Garrett’s hand flew to his neck in a manner reminiscent of the “pearl clutch” Henry had often executed, much to Devon’s amusement. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined this scenario. He’d pictured himself losing his family, not adding to it. He choked out, “He’s…mine?” around the lump in his throat.
Sarah nodded, “He’s yours. We’ll be waiting for you in Hawaii. You can start getting to know each other then.”
“I already know he’s a fan of superheroes.” Garrett chuckled and turned his gaze to look at each of his older three children. “And I look forward to getting to know the young men and woman you’ve each grown into. I’m sure a lot has changed in five years.”
For some reason, Grant and Michaela both cast a glance at Evan, who noticed and promptly blushed.
“Whatever it is,” Garrett said. “It’s fine.”
Evan didn’t say anything, but put up a stubborn chin, mirroring Sarah’s. Clearly there was something they thought he might have an adverse opinion on.
“Don’t worry. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my life on that island. I’m a much more relaxed person than the dad you remember from five years ago. I don’t care if you want to become an artist, a musician, or aspire to be the best waiter the local truck stop ever hired. I just want you to be happy.”
Evan’s lips quirked up. “I’m gonna major in accounting.”
Garrett paused. But something was worrying his son, and he didn’t want him stressing about it between now and Hawaii. He tilted his head and smiled reassuringly. “Wonderful. And if you and your boyfriend want to be drag queens in your free time, I’m chill with that, too.”
Grant and Michaela snickered. Sarah’s smile was wide, and Evan coughed and sputtered into his hand. When he recovered, he grinned at Garrett. “Good to know. We…ah…don’t have any immediate plans to become drag queens, though.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Garrett winked.
“No, there’s not,” Sarah agreed.
A noise in the hall outside his room brought Garrett back to earth. “Sorry, but we have to stagger our calls, and Henry still needs to make his.”
“Of course,” Sarah said. “So, we won’t hear from you again before we see you in Hawaii?”
“Probably not. We’ll transfer to that coast guard cutter tomorrow. Military security and all, so I doubt there’s any communication outside of their radio operators.
Sarah nodded. “Love you.”
The kids all nodded and there was a chorus of “Love you, Dad” from the older kids, while Garrett, Jr. stared.
“Love you all,” Garrett said. “Garrett, if you’d like, you can help me make you your very own straw hat when I get home.”
That got a tentative smile out of the little boy. He whispered, “Okay.”
Garrett blew a kiss, said, “Goodbye,” and signed off.
His head flopped back, and he stared at the ceiling. He wanted to think he would have reacted well to Evan’s revelation even before spending five years on a small island with a gay man, but he wasn’t sure.
“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore,” he muttered.
He straightened his shoulders and returned to the where the others waited. He smiled in reply to the raised brows they directed at him, silently inquiring. “Sarah never remarried, and I have one more child than I thought I had.”
“Dude!” Devon exclaimed.
“That’s fantastic. Congratulations!” Henry stood and gave him a hug. “Here’s hoping my luck is even half as good as yours.”
Uses the prompt words/phrase (nervous) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.
Told from Henry’s 3rd-person POV:
“Nervous” didn’t begin to describe Henry’s emotions as he stepped back from Garrett’s hug and mentally prepared to call Sam. On a sliding scale with “mildly worried” at the lower end, he was fast approaching the opposite extreme with a “jumping out of his skin” level of panic.
“Papa!” Buddy hopped out of his seat and wrapped his arms around Henry’s torso.
“Buddy,” Garrett said. “Devon and I will be right here with you. Papa will be back in a few minutes.”
“Pleeeeeeeaaase?” The anxiety in Buddy’s eyes mirrored his plea—and the roiling in Henry’s gut.
He picked up the little boy and planted a kiss on his cheek. “I understand, Buddy, but just in case it’s not good news, it would be better to have me to tell you about it after the call.” Henry turned to Garrett. “I think I can keep it together, but probably best for him not to witness the letdown.”
Buddy relaxed his hold, and Henry passed him to Garrett without incident. “I’ll be back soon.”
He gave Buddy a wink that was far jauntier than his mood and followed Jonathan to a private room. Jonathan picked up an iPad. “You can make either a voice or video call using Skype or Facetime. Do you have a preference?”
“Skype, please.” The only contact information on the paper Henry had been handed was Sam’s old phone number. He could call that voice number from Jonathan’s Skype app if his attempt to reach Sam’s old account for a video-chat didn’t work. In the past, Sam had often kept the app active in the background on his tablet. They’d both used it regularly when one of them was traveling, and Sam had frequently communicated with his family using that app. Hopefully, he still used it.
It was probably wrong to blindside Sam with an unexpected video call when he was expecting voice, but good news or bad, Henry wanted to see the expression in Sam’s eyes. That would tell him how Sam truly felt better than words.
Jonathan swiped, opened the app, and handed it to Henry. “I’ll be with the others if you need me for anything.”
Henry gripped the iPad and sat. His fingers drummed on the back loud enough for the dull tapping to be heard above the sounds of the ocean. He puffed out his cheeks as he slowly released an unsteady breath, then typed in the information.
The call rang through without an error message, so Sam likely still used that account. It rang once, twice, then three times, which wasn’t necessarily a bad sign. In the past, Sam hadn’t had the Skype app on his phone. He’d only used it on his tablet, which if his habits hadn’t changed, was likely charging on his bedside table. It was the middle of the night, but he pictured Sam pacing the living room, waiting for his cell phone to ring. No way he’d be in bed.
Henry’s chin dropped after the fourth ring. Sam wasn’t going to get to it in time before the app gave up. Sam usually kept the volume low, so there was a good chance he couldn’t even hear it.
Should he retry or just call the voice number like Sam was expecting? His breath hitched when the sound changed. Then the video screen came to life, but he couldn’t make anything out in the dark room. Maybe it wasn’t Sam’s account after all?
A light came on and the room seemed to turn as the tablet was picked up. Sam hadn’t moved. Henry recognized the ceiling fan and window treatments from their bedroom.
Henry’s jaw clenched when a tousled blond man who was not Sam came into focus. The blond’s face had precisely the kind of pinched and frazzled expression one would expect to find on a man whose life had been turned upside down mere hours earlier. The man’s face softened a bit, with a saddened tilt to his brows when he looked at Henry—or maybe it was after he noticed Henry’s strained, horrorstruck expression and wobbly chin.
“Sorry,” the blond man said. “Sam was expecting the call on his phone. Hold on.”
Thank goodness Henry hadn’t caved in to Buddy’s plea, because if his uncontrollably shaking shoulders were any clue, he wasn’t going to make it through this call without crying. Sam had remarried. Did he have kids, too? Had Sam and this beautiful blond man adopted a family together?
But after a false start the man stopped and looked at Henry again. “You don’t have to worry.”
Henry clutched his chest as hope fluttered in his heart. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.
“We’re not married, and we’re not engaged. I moved in less than two months ago, and…” The man’s voice broke. “I’ve already told him I’m bowing out.”
Henry audibly blew out a rush of air as his hand moved closer to his face. He managed to squeak, “Thank you. I’m…I’m sorry to put you through this.”
Which was true. Much as Henry was thrilled to learn he hadn’t lost Sam, this man had. And the relationship had progressed enough for him to have moved in with Sam, so this ordeal would be painful for both of them.
The image jerked around as the still-nameless man who’d been Sam’s partner carried the tablet through the house. Henry caught a glimpse of the bedroom, and tears welled in his eyes. He would be happy to see familiar objects in the house, but some of his tension faded seeing that Sam wasn’t sleeping with another man under the same homemade quilt that had been a wedding present from Sam’s grandmother.
“Nash?” Sam’s voice was faint but recognizable, and beautiful blond-guy had a name.
“He called on Skype.” The wall with the gorgeous fireplace Sam had fallen in love with when they’d first viewed the house flashed by. “I was afraid the call would disconnect, so I answered.”
“Oh. Thank you. I’m s—”
“Don’t!” Nash bit out. “I get it already. You’re sorry. Everybody’s sorry. It’s nobody’s fault.” Nash’s tone tempered as his mini-tirade concluded. Obviously, he was a man struggling to retain his humanity and dignity through a distressing personal loss. His voice sounded more distant as he apparently walked away. “I’m going back to bed.”
An image of the French doors leading to the back yard jiggled until the click of the bedroom door sounded, then wobbled some more as the picture shifted, and Sam’s face came into focus.
“Henry.” Sam’s face crumpled, and a tear traced down his cheek. “I’m…” He shook his head.
“Sorry. Right. Me, too.” Henry gave a watery smile. “Not for being alive, of course, but…you know. For putting you in this position.”
“I still can’t believe this is happening.”
Henry snuffled and blinked through tears. “Every day…every single day I thought of you. Worried about what you were going through.”
“Hell.” Sam wiped his eyes.
Which was pretty much how Henry had pictured it. “Will I see you when we land in Hawaii?”
“Yes.” Sam sniffed. “I missed you so much. Even with this call, it won’t seem real until I can hold you in my arms.”
Henry still felt sorry for Nash, but Sam’s words tempered the guilt. Henry’s hands trembled as he realized Sam had settled. Of course Sam had loved Nash on some level or he’d never have asked the man to move in, but clearly Sam had never completely gotten over losing Henry. Nash seemed like a decent guy. He deserved someone who would love him unreservedly.
Henry said, “I don’t know what the coast guard has told you…”
“Not much. They’ll be in touch with more information in the morning.”
“I need to tell you about Buddy. I want your help.”
Sam blinked. “Buddy? Was that one of the other survivors?”
“A child, yes. There’s four of us, total. Three adults plus Buddy. He was too young to tell us his name so that’s what we call him.”
Curiosity sparked in Sam’s eyes. “And you want my help with…?”
“The adoption process. I had the captain of this boat alert the coast guard of my intent, but anything you can do to help…please. He latched onto me as a surrogate father immediately, and…” Henry’s voice broke. “I can’t lose him, Sam. We’re sure he’s orphaned because Garrett remembers seeing Buddy with his parents when he first got on the plane. I need some kind of agreement and paperwork in place when we land that’ll give me temporary custody. We’re both scared to death he’ll be taken away.”
“And I wouldn’t keep him from his extended family. That would be mean. I’m totally open to them getting regular visitation.”
“Absolutely. I’ll call an attorney first thing in the morning. Don’t worry about a thing.”
Henry slumped into the soft chair. “Thank you. You have no idea how much sleep I’ve lost over the years worrying about losing him and…losing you.”
“I promise to do everything I can. I should be able to get messages to you on that coast guard ship even though we can’t directly speak again until Hawaii. I’ll keep you posted.”
Knowing Sam, having this task—this purpose—to occupy him in the coming days until they met in Hawaii would help save him from agonizing over the pain he’d caused Nash, and ease the anticipation until they could be together once more. And Sam would leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of this goal—of that Henry had zero doubts.
“Thank you.” Henry gave a shaky laugh. Finally…finally…he could relax—unwind from the tight coil he’d twisted himself into since their rescue. With the uncertainty of his future replaced by cautious optimism, he could at long last allow himself to wallow in the enjoyment of imagining his new life with Sam and Buddy.
“I love you,” Sam said. “And I know I’ll love Buddy, too.”
“I love you, too. And you will. He’s amazing.” Henry straightened. He was the last to make his call, so there wasn’t any reason not to… “Would you like to meet him now? I’ve told him so many stories, and he’s dying to meet you.”
“Yeah? That’d be great.”
Henry jumped up and returned to the lounge where the others waited.
“I like the looks of that smile,” Devon said when Henry walked in. “Good news?”
“Yes.” Mostly. Not so much for poor Nash, but in the long run, maybe it would be best for him, too. “Uh, Sam’s still on. I want to introduce him to Buddy—to all of you while we’re at it, if that’s okay.”
“Yay!” Buddy sprang up.
“We’d love to meet him.” Garrett stood and motioned for the others to join him in grouping around Henry. Devon picked up Buddy.
“You, too,” Henry nodded to Jonathan and Charles. “If you’re willing.”
“We’d be honored,” Jonathan replied.
Henry angled the tablet to take in the entire group, and Buddy’s eyes widened in wonder at the sight of the technology that had been described to him, but he’d never seen. “Sam, first of all, I’d like you to meet our saviors, Jonathan and Charles Fitch. We owe these two young men our lives.”
The brothers beamed, and Sam’s face scrunched. For a moment Henry thought he was going to cry, but he recovered quickly. “I was told a little bit about how the rescue came about. It might have been a crazy combination of adventure and luck, but you are both heroes through and through. You have my eternal gratitude.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Jonathan said. “It’s an experience we’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”
“Best holiday ever,” Charles added and nudged Jonathan. “I guess we make a good team.”
Jonathan chuckled. “We do.”
Henry nodded toward Garrett. “Sam, this is Garrett Pinkham, master weaver of hats, baskets, rope, shelter walls, and all manner of helpful things. Garrett was a high-ranking honcho at a toy company in his old life, but for now wants to spend as much time as possible with his family. When he left for Fiji, he thought he had three kids. Turns out he had three and a quarter kids, and now has four.”
Garrett laughed, and Sam exclaimed, “Congratulations! That’s fantastic.”
“Even better news than I’d dared hope.”
Putting a hand on Devon’s shoulder, Henry said, “Sam, this is Devon Engels, fisherman extraordinaire and brilliant toolmaker who in his prior life was a kickass linebacker for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and aspiring FBI agent.”
“Pleased to meet you Devon. That’s an impressive variety of talent!”
Devon snorted and grinned widely. “Henry might be embellishing just a bit there. But dude, I’ve heard so many stories about you, I feel like I know you.”
“I’ve got some catching up to do.”
Buddy grinned widely as Devon bounced him. Henry said, “And this little cutie is Buddy. He’s got a mind like a sponge, remembers everything, and has an insatiable curiosity.”
Buddy positively glowed. “And I can help Devon catch fish, and help Papa filet them, and help Garrett make sun hats. Oh, and I know how to play catch with a papaya and build sand castles!”
Sam guffawed. “Perfect. I don’t know how to make sunhats, but we can play catch and go fishing here, too. I look forward to doing that with you.”
Henry turned to Buddy and added, “Sam’s going to be working hard this week to make sure we stay together when we land in Hawaii.”
Buddy nodded solemnly and looked at Sam. “’Cause Papa’s my Papa, and I’m really scared if I can’t live with my Papa.”
“I’ll make sure of it.” Sam choked up as he murmured the words.
Henry took a deep breath as the others returned to their seats. “Well, it’s the middle of the night there, you must be exhausted.”
“We both know I’m not going to get any more sleep tonight, but that’s okay. I’ll be busy researching attorneys.”
“I love you.” Henry sniffled and blew a kiss at the screen.
“Au revoir, my love.”
Henry signed off and placed the iPad on a side table. He dropped into a chair, and Buddy climbed onto his lap. He rubbed the little boy’s head and landed a kiss to his forehead. Buddy snuggled into Henry’s chest, and Henry wrapped his arms around the child.
Jonathan moved to a small wine cooler and pulled out a bottle. “Great news all around. This calls for a toast.”
“Hear, hear!” Charles selected flutes from a cabinet and set them on a tray, and Jonathan opened the bottle with a flourish.
When Charles passed out the glasses, Buddy got a flute full of apple juice. Jonathan held up his glass and said, “A very good friend recently showed me an internet meme that he said best described his personal philosophy. I admire him for the way he takes life by the horns and owns it.
“Obviously, you didn’t intend to take this particular journey, but listening to your stories of life on that island, I was reminded of this quote, and suspect you might each embrace it as well.
“In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, ‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, Wow! What a Ride!’”
“Right on!” Devon said.
Garrett and Henry grinned, and said, “Cheers!” as they all clinked glasses.
Henry’s outlook on life had altered over the last five years. Even if they’d been rescued immediately, things he’d realized and regretted as they’d plunged toward what they’d thought would be their doom, had changed him. Going forward he would never hold back in sharing his concerns and feelings with Sam. He wouldn’t avoid the difficult discussions and would take every opportunity to maximize their enjoyment of this life. Even a full life could be considered fleeting, and one never knew when it might be cut short. He vowed to live his life without regrets, and to instill that same attitude in Buddy.