Question: Henry, What is your most treasured possession?
Henry: Oh, my. I recently spent five years on an island with essentially no possessions, so I’ve learned an important truth about “stuff,” which is that people can make do without all the gadgetry we often think of as invaluable. I suppose in a way my fellow-castaways and I were simply exchanging higher tech tools for more primitive self-made implements, but still, as much as I would have loved to get my hands on a paring knife, a sharp saw, or even a good hammer, I’d missed my husband, Sam, more than I’d missed any of those things.
Question: Surely there’s something you can point to. How about if you could pick any item—not person—to keep with you always, what would it be?
Henry: Okay, if you’re going to hold my feet to the fire and make me name something, I’ll go with the fancy Swiss Army Knife that Sam bought for me after my return. It would have been worth its weight in gold on that island. Sadly, with travel security measures being what they must be, it’s not something I could have had with me in that situation anyway.
Question: What is your greatest regret?
Henry: I don’t know if I have one anymore. I had a lot of regrets when that airplane was going down. Mostly about things that had been left unsaid with Sam, or that I wished I’d handled differently. One of the things I’ve done since my return is confess all those things to Sam, because I don’t want to be in a position like that ever again—where I could accept what appeared to be my inevitable fate, but not the lack of closure with Sam
Turns out Sam had had a similar problem. He showed me a goodbye letter he’d written to me as part of a grief therapy group project. Damned thing made me cry. He cried, too, when I told him what I’d thought about when I believed I was going to die…the things I regretted then. We vowed to live our lives going forward openly and honestly both with ourselves and each other so we would have no regrets.
If you mean bigger things, like do I regret getting on that plane? That’s a tough one. Everything I’ve experienced in my life has gone into making me who I am today, and I like the man I’ve become. I wouldn’t want to change that, so I can’t change anything about the journey I’ve taken to get here. Besides, Sam and I wouldn’t have Aiden in our lives now if I hadn’t taken that detour from my carefully planned life.
Question: Which living person do you most despise?
Henry: That’s easy. The man who planted those bombs on TransOceanic Flight 3012. I know it’s not necessarily the worst tragedy that’s occurred in my lifetime, or with the perpetrator still living, but it’s one I witnessed first-hand. I saw terrified people who were doomed to die, and knew it. It was a horrifying experience.
Question: What is it that you most dislike?
Henry: Pettiness and pointless drama. More than ever, there’s no room in my life for that kind of nonsense.
Question: What is your motto?
Henry: Live, laugh, love. Live each day as though it’s your last, because one day you’ll be right.
NOTE: Missing/Bonus scenes are arranged chronologically in the characters’ timeline.
Uses the prompt word (jockstrap) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.
Told from Sam’s 3rd-person POV:
Sam closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath before reopening them and facing the hamper. In the days immediately following the news of Henry’s plane crash, he’d eyed the tall wicker basket despondently and had instead put his freshly used clothes directly into the laundry basket sitting atop the washing machine.
Would this be his last chance to catch Henry’s scent? It was already starting to fade on the sheets that were still on the bed. His heart wasn’t ready to give up hope, but it warred with the logical nature of his brain. Either way, he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t take care of Henry’s personal effects himself. Regina had offered to handle this task for him, but he’d declined. He both dreaded and wanted to do this himself. He squared his shoulders, removed the lid, and reached in.
His own pajama bottoms lay on top. The ones he’d been wearing when he’d awoken that fateful morning. After watching the news report, he’d been too distracted to think. Apparently, he’d opened the hamper out of sheer habit and tossed them in. He transferred them to one of the laundry baskets he’d placed beside the hamper. Next he quickly sorted the clothes he’d worn earlier that day.
Sam sighed and stared at Henry’s lime-green Nike stretchy fitted shirt that he’d worn when they’d gone cycling together earlier in the afternoon before the flight. Henry had wanted to get his blood flowing before he’d be stuck sitting in an airplane for thirteen hours. Sam’s heart skipped a beat as the sweaty musk that permeated the fabric wafted up to him. He reached, then froze with his hand suspended above the brightly colored material. A sob wobbled in his throat, and he fisted the shirt and clutched it to his chest. He desperately wanted to bury his nose in it, but a vocal corner of his brain cried out, arguing that it would be impossible to turn back, emotionally, if he let himself flounder in his pain.
He tossed the shirt into a waiting laundry basket and gaped at the next item in the hamper. The jockstrap Henry had worn beneath his biking shorts. In typical Henry style, it was a tantalizing cross between form and function. No strictly utilitarian underwear for Henry, but neither was it meant purely as a fashion statement. It was bright blue with a wide gray waistband—pretty, but functional. And rich with Henry’s personal fragrance.
Again, Sam’s fingers hovered over the garment before finally clasping the material. The tears he’d been holding at bay flowed freely as he clenched and flexed his hand around the material. He kept his hands down at his belly, that corner of his brain now positively screaming that he’d never be able to turn back from the abyss if he lost control here and gave himself over to the desperate desire to wallow in Henry’s scent. His hand shook as he transferred the skimpy garment to the laundry basket. He shivered, picturing himself turning into some shifty creeper that came home and sniffed undergarments in a baggie every night. He ran his fingers through his hair and steeled himself to quickly sort through the rest.
He stood and carried the first load to the washing machine, opened it, and tossed in the clothes and a detergent pod. The bright blue jockstrap teased him from the top of the pile. He closed his eyes and counted to ten as he fiddled with a button on his shirt. When he reopened them, the rational corner of his brain whispered: This needs to be done, regardless. Either Henry will want his clothes clean when he returns, or they’ll need to be clean when you pack them away. Sam pushed back when that reasonable part of his psyche pressed him to accept it was the latter, and aloud, he murmured to the empty house, “I know the odds that you’re still alive out there are far closer to ‘none’ than ‘slim,’ but I’m not ready to let go of you, yet.”
Uses the prompts (an old desk, a dancer, and a ship) from P.T. Wyant’s Wednesday’s Words post.
Told from Garrett’s 3rd-person POV:
It was late afternoon, and after an early dinner Garrett plopped down on the sand of the eastern beach. He watched as Henry, Devon, and Buddy—now probably approaching two years of age—splashed each other playfully at the ocean’s edge.
Garrett enjoyed the privilege of watching Buddy grow. The sweet little boy reminded him of his own children. It had been over a year since he’d seen them, and he regretted not spending this kind of quality time with them as they’d grown.
Here on the island, Garrett regularly helped Henry keep an eye on, and entertain, Buddy. There were so many ways a curious toddler could injure himself on an island like this, it was imperative that one of them watch the young boy at all times. They’d learned that the hard way shortly after the child had started walking.
He thought back to when his own boys, Grant and Evan, had been pre-schoolers. They’d come skipping into his office at home where he’d be sitting at the grand old desk he’d inherited from his grandfather and implore him to come play catch with them. “Later,” he’d say. “We’ll do it this afternoon.”
How many times had “this afternoon” never happened? Oh, the afternoon had come and gone, but it had done so without Garrett going out to play ball with his sons.
And how many of his daughter’s dance recitals had he missed, traveling for work? Too many. She’d grown to be a fantastic dancer. He’d managed a few of the recitals—enough to realize that—but he’d missed far too many.
If he was given another chance with his family, things would be different. Instead of living the words of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle, he’d be the most hands-on father a family could wish for. Family, not his career, would become his number one priority. Even if it meant fewer “things,” because he finally understood. It had taken losing all material possessions for him to realize it, but he now appreciated how unimportant they’d been in the overall scheme of his life.
He stood and began a circuit of the island, scanning the horizon for a ship that never seemed to come. No ships, no sailboats, no fishing vessels, no airplanes, no fucking hot-air balloons. Nothing. This trip around the island was no different from any of the others before it.
Back on the eastern beach he joined the others at the ocean’s edge. Buddy ran to him, splashed water at his chest, and squealed “Got you, got you!”
Uses the prompt word (tadpole) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (mix – vegetable – disagreeable – immense – aboard – invincible – food – intend – old – hand – alike – romantic – muscle – bad) from a random word generator.
Told from Devon’s 1st-person POV:
At the same time, it seemed like only yesterday and yet forever ago that I’d felt invincible. I frowned, remembering how the lyrics of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” had run through my mind aboard that damned plane. I’d been flying high, both figuratively and literally, having just completed a successful freshman year as a linebacker for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and was on my way to a fun-in-the-sun vacation with a couple buddies. I’d felt on top of the world…right up until we’d dropped out of the sky. Being one of only four survivors of a plane crash should arguably reinforce that feeling of invulnerability, but it didn’t.
Sitting in the shade, a few yards into the northern tree line, I looked out over the immense expanse of ocean and shivered despite the heat. I used to think of myself as a romantic, but now, sometimes if felt as if the only thing keeping me from acting like a disagreeableold man in a perpetual bad mood was the kid, “Buddy.”
I didn’t intend to be difficult, and mostly I kept the ever-lurking hopelessness that triggered the occasional outburst at bay. I rolled my shoulders and shook out my hands to metaphorically push the threatening melancholy away.
I sighed and stood, listening for Buddy, then cut through the interior toward the large rock where we tended to gather. It was our “table” for meals, and it was where Henry kept a basket with extra food for snacking. Fish, fruit, nuts, seeds, and seaweed…day after day after day. Henry tried to mix it up with his meal prep, but after a while, they all seemed alike. Maybe, not entirely, but the menu was short. What I wouldn’t give for a big juicy steak, or a piece of fried chicken, or a hamburger. I even craved vegetables—the non-seaweed variety.
The thought of food reminded me I was thirsty, so I detoured by the Papaya tree grove where our little fresh water “spring” was located. It was little more than a deep puddle that slowly but continually refilled itself, but it was one of the key reasons we’d survived all these years.
With my hands cupped, I scooped a couple mouthfuls before noticing a batch of tadpoles had hatched. We would have to be careful with the water for the next couple months so we didn’t harm them. Henry had schooled us early on about how the tree frogs on the island kept the fruit flies in check. Without the frogs, the flies could easily decimate our fruit supply.
Startled, I jumped to my feet when a scream pierced through the background noise of the ocean’s waves. Buddy! Something had happened. Something bad. My gut twisted with fear as I took off running toward the heart-rending sound, then spun, because Buddy was apparently darting around the corner of the island as he shrieked.
I turned to take the path that led to where the screams had come to an abrupt halt, but now Garrett was hollering my name. Like Buddy, his voice was a moving target so I kept going in the direction I was already headed.
When I burst out onto the beach, Buddy’s arms and legs were wrapped around Henry, with his face buried in the man’s neck, and Garrett’s head spun back and forth. He turned and ran back in my direction, then veered toward the water’s edge with his arms waving. I ground to a halt with my heart in my throat, confused, until I saw it.
A plane—no, it was close, silent, and too small to be manned—a drone was flying past us. I chased it, screaming, “Stop! Stop!” and waved my arms like a lunatic until it was out of sight. But it circled and returned from the other direction.
Circling meant we’d been spotted. The drone operator knew we were here. It couldn’t actually stop, as I’d reflexively yelled, but did he (or she) realize we needed help—that we were stranded? Probably. Our general appearance would make that apparent, and if not, our hysterical chasing and arm waving would’ve put any doubts to rest.
The three of us came together in a huddle on the beach. Henry patted Buddy’s back, but his ragged breathing and wide eyes belied his own fears for the future, mixed with his obvious excitement. Garrett panted. “Sticks. We need sticks so we can write in the sand.”
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll get some.” I brushed my hand across my eyes to clear the tears of relief that welled up as I ran down the path to our wood-stand. When I arrived, the muscles in my legs gave out, and I stumbled to a stop and leaned against a tree for support.
“I’m going home,” I whispered to the universe. I pictured the look of shock that would appear on my parents’ faces when they got the news. My brothers—after five years they wouldn’t look the same. I snickered, remembering how I’d just been thinking about the foods I missed as if they were what was important. No, that craving was overpowered by the yearning to see my family—a longing I’d suppressed for too long to keep despair at bay. I’ll see you, soon, I added silently, then I grabbed three sticks from the kindling pile and dashed back to the beach.
🔽 🔼 Missing Scene: Sam's POV - Sam and Nash Confrontation
Uses the prompt words (sudoku – carrot) left in the comments of the previous weeks’ Flash Fiction Friday posts, and 13 prompt words (lighten – level – self – language – wistful – warn – precede – end – weak – stiff – simple – wobble – fine) from a random word generator.
Told from Sam’s 3rd-person POV:
Sam would’ve rather been anywhere, doing anything, than staying where he was, watching Buddy precede Henry as they walked out the front door with Harley. He’d rather stand in front of a classroom full of incoming freshmen and use the words “epic fail” to describe his recent actions—or lack thereof. He’d rather have his career depend upon the outcome of his entry in a timed Sudoku contest against the math department professors. Hell, he’d rather get his balls waxed. In other words…anything.
If he needed a carrot on a stick to motivate him to turn around and face Nash, he supposed it could be the promise of getting Henry back after he’d suffered this long-overdue conversation.
Henry had been correct. Sam needed to do his level best to handle this properly. Much as he’d love to lighten the mood, to do so would be unfair to everyone involved. Sam straightened his shoulders and cast one more wistful glance out the window as Harley’s pickup backed out of the driveway, then turned to face his now-former fiancé.
Nash still stood with his arms stiff at his sides, his fists clenched as if he’d like nothing better than to unleash his admittedly righteous fury on Sam.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, hoping a simple, sincere declaration would be a good start.
But, Nash’s face grew even redder. “Fuck you!” he shouted. Shrieked, really.
Sam wobbled on weak knees. Where the hell had that come from? Sure he’d known Nash was upset, as he should be, but they’d never raised their voices, let alone shouted at one another. That had come out of nowhere, with no warning. Language deserted Sam as his jaw dropped.
“First you couldn’t make a straightforward decision. Him or me? Do I stay or do I go? Then when you finally fucking did you couldn’t even pick up the goddamned phone and call me? Fuck! You!” At least Nash wasn’t yelling anymore, but his voice was cold and hard as he bit out the words.
What Nash said wasn’t entirely fair. Nash had contributed greatly to Sam’s indecision. He was the one who’d made the point that Henry would certainly have changed in five years and might not even want to get back together with Sam. It was almost as if Nash had seen the writing on the wall and actively lobbied to sway Sam’s decision.
But Sam didn’t want to make this about himself. This needed to be about helping Nash cope with the abrupt end to their engagement.
“I am sorry,” Sam whispered. Tears threated to fall as he ran a hand through his hair. “I do love you. Please remember that. You deserved better than a breakup over the phone, but I should have thought about how that reunion scene was being broadcast on TV.”
Nash stared at him for a moment, then his eyes became unfocused, and his gaze dropped.
“I didn’t want to hurt you,” Sam continued. “I would never have caused you pain deliberately.”
Nash sniffed loudly and lifted his gaze. The torment in Nash’s eyes ripped through Sam’s heart. Sam stepped forward instinctively to offer a hug, but Nash put up a hand, palm out. “No.” Nash shook his head. “That won’t help me anymore. It would hurt.”
Sam stilled, and his arms dropped. “What can I do to help.”
Rolling his shoulders and clearing his throat as if consciously trying to pull himself together, Nash looked around the room and said, “You know what? I’ll be fine. The sooner I clear out of here and move on with my life, the better off I’ll be. If you want to help, take a pass through the house and see if there’s anything I’ve missed packing.”
“Of course.” But Sam couldn’t bring himself to move his legs.
Nash wiped the back of his hand across his wet eyes. “I want to be ready to leave when Harley gets back.”
Stomach clenched, Sam nodded and stepped away. Nash might not want a hug, but Sam needed one desperately.
Sam turned at the sound of the softly spoken word.
“I…I love you, too. That’s why…” Nash snuffled. “You know.”
“I know,” Sam murmured.
“Maybe…maybe one last hug for the road. I don’t want to end things like this.”
Sam’s hands trembled and one of the tears that had been threatening finally traced down his cheek. He opened his arms, and Nash stepped into them. “Thank you,” Sam whispered into Nash’s hair.
I thought I’d share a scene from ’Til Death Do Us Part that was deleted during the editing process. It was a nice little tying-up-loose-ends scene, but it didn’t advance the story.
Although it would have been a distraction from the storyline and was rightfully ditched, I think it’s a scene that might still be of interest to fans of the story. Here it is…
Told from Lieutenant Gavin Faraday’s 3rd-person POV:
Second Lieutenant Gavin Faraday placed the headset he’d been wearing on the console and rubbed his hands over his eyes. It had been a tough shift. He’d had to follow some challenging orders, but he’d made it through without losing his drone. He stood and made his way to the exit, relieved to be finally off duty for the day.
“Mail room wants to make sure you stop by today, sir,” Sergeant Canton said as Gavin passed by.
Gavin nodded his acknowledgement and walked out the door. He expelled a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders, allowing the stress of the day to ebb. He turned left instead of the right he’d planned. When the mail room clerk saw him coming, she bent down and retrieved a large box from underneath a table.
Who the hell was sending him a huge box like that? He looked at the return address. Hawaii. It had shipped from the Coast Guard base in Hawaii.
Back in his quarters, Gavin carefully sliced open the top flaps and folded them back. Inside was a large, very worn, but still attractive basket. When he lifted the cover off the basket, he found an 8” x 10” color photograph of the four castaways he’d discovered that appeared to have been taken shortly after they’d disembarked from the Coast Guard cutter in Hawaii.
On the photograph were the words, “To Second Lieutenant Gavin Faraday: Thank you!” and it was signed by each of them, including the childish scrawl of one who’d only ever written on sand before, but he was able to make out the letters spelling “Buddy.”
Gavin was glad he’d remained anonymous and therefore able to avoid the media spectacle that had surrounded the event, but he’d be forever proud of the part he’d played. He smiled to himself, gently folded up the flaps on the package, and carefully stowed it out of the way.
🔽 🔼 Missing Scene: (100-Word DRABBLE) - Henry's POV - Missed You (Before the Bath)
Uses this image prompt: Disclaimer: The images used in this blog’s posts are found from different sources all over the Internet, and are assumed to be in public domain and are displayed under the fair use principle. Click the image to be taken to my source for today’s photo prompt.
Told from Henry’s 1st-person POV:
Sam landed a kiss to my ear, then wrapped his arms around my shoulders. I held him tightly around the waist, and we stood there rocking as the tub filled. Simple, uncomplicated moments like this were what I’d missed most of all. I felt so absurdly safe in Sam’s arms. Sure I’d longed for his advice, his company, full-on unrestrained sex, and even his corny sense of humor. But, there was something about the warm, calming sensations that a mere hug delivered that went above and beyond.
“Henry?” Sam whispered.
“I love you so much. Just so damned much.”
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene (100-Word DRABBLE): Henry's POV - Minutes Later (After the Bath)
Uses the prompt word and phrases (shower – toothbrush – my own bed – home sweet home!) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.
Told from Henry’s 1st-person POV:
I’d already promised myself I’d never again take Sam for granted, but as the water drained from the tub, I added creature comforts to that list. Like relaxing in my own bed, or deciding between a leisurely soak in the tub or a nice hot shower. And don’t get me started on my formerly underappreciated toothbrush.
“What are you thinking about?” Sam kissed my neck and placed a soft fluffy towel around my shoulders.
“Home sweet home!” I figured that and my mellow grin pretty much summed it up. I closed my eyes as he slowly rubbed my body dry.
Uses the prompt word (syllable) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (grind – smooth – assignment – chest – top – improve – trench – interest – concede – taste – rotation – bedroom – tent – dominate) from a random word generator.
Told from Henry’s 1st-person POV:
“Look, Aiden,” Sam said. “See all the cows in that field?”
Sam never missed an opportunity to engage Aiden’s interest. My chest swelled with pride in my husband. To say that Sam was a natural at parenting would be an understatement. How had I ever thought to deny him the opportunity?
We were whizzing along a straight, smooth stretch of highway heading toward a campground. I’d say it was Aiden’s first camping trip, but in truth, much of his life thus far could be described as one long camping trip. It would be his first time sleeping out in a canvas tent, anyway.
“Cool.” Aiden craned his neck, scanning the field. “I learned about cows at school. Milk we drink comes from cows, right Dad?”
“Right,” Sam replied.
“Remember, Papa?” Aiden asked. “You took me to the store with you, and we looked at all the milk labels ’cause I had an assignment about that stuff. Then we bought two different kinds so I could taste the difference, remember?”
“I remember.” How could I forget? He’d chattered nonstop about everything he’d learned on the topic. Both being teachers, Sam and I were always looking to improve our son’s knowledge of the world around us, but occasionally the reverse happened. I’d learned a few things that afternoon listening to him.
“Are any of them bulls? I learned those are the boy cows, but I didn’t learn about silly bulls yet. I heard another teacher tell some kids about silly bulls, but I didn’t know what that is.”
“Silly bulls?” I quirked an eyebrow in Sam’s direction. I was the one who’d raised Aiden for most of his life, but I had to concede that Sam was better at interpreting Aiden’s meaning when the kid got confused.
Sam smiled, then turned in the passenger seat to face Aiden. “Did you overhear a science teacher talking, or was it a language teacher?”
“It was Mr. Dubois. Sometimes he teaches kids how to speak French, but sometimes he teaches English stuff, too.”
“Ah,” Sam said. “I think the word you heard might have been ‘syllable’ rather than ‘silly bull.’ A syllable is how a word naturally breaks up into parts when you say it aloud. Like ‘Aiden’ had two syllables. Aye and den.”
I caught a glimpse of Aiden in the rearview mirror. He wore what I thought of as his “thinking face,” with his brow scrunched up in concentration.
“Hmm. When Ms. Hitchens told me about the solar system I learned really long words. Revolution. That’s what the earth does around the sun. Reh-vuh-loo-shun. Is that four syllables?”
“That’s right,” Sam said. “Very good!”
“Rotation. That’s why we have a daytime and a nighttime. Ro-tay-shun,” Aiden enunciated. “Three syllables?”
“You got it,” I replied.
Aiden turned to look out the window again. That lasted all of about ten seconds before he asked, “How much longer before we get to the camping place?”
“About twenty more minutes,” Sam replied.
“It’s going to be so cool,” Aiden raved. “Sometimes I miss sleeping in our old hut, Papa, with Devon and Garrett. But, I really, really like sleeping in my very own bedroom, too.”
I liked having him sleep in his own bedroom, in his own bed, too. And not simply for privacy purposes. That kid could dominate a king-sized bed like no other. Sometimes he’d end up sideways in the bed.
“If it gets cold,” Aiden continued, “it’ll be extra good, ’cause it’s warmer sleeping with other people, right?”
“Right,” Sam said. “Don’t worry, though. Our sleeping bags are very warm, and we can always layer our trench coats on top if we need to for extra warmth.”
We passed another field of cows. My eyes widened as I caught sight of a bull mounting one of the cows. Nothing escaped Aiden’s notice. No way he wouldn’t ask about a couple of bovine working on a little bump and grind. I held my breath and waited for his inevitable question.
Sam choked back a laugh, and my peripheral vision picked up his shaking shoulders. Obviously, he’d seen it, too.
“Dad, Papa, look!” Aiden exclaimed. “Why is that one cow trying to climb on top of that other one?”
I sure as hell didn’t want to field that one. I kept my mouth shut and waited for Sam. He usually handled Aiden’s questions, but a quick glance at his slack jaw told me he wanted to punt this one back to me.
“I know!” Aiden said. “That’s a ‘silly bull,’ right?”
Uses the prompt word (Saturn) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (rainy – immense – blue – sweet – gorgeous – club – bone – wilderness – jolly – shock – endurable – rail – shaky – muscle) from a random word generator.
Told from Henry’s 3rd-person POV:
Henry cracked open one of the French doors leading outside to the patio and whispered, “What are you doing?”
Sam turned from where he stood gazing at the predawn southeastern sky and smiled. “No clouds in this direction. Come look at the stars with me.”
Likely it would be rainy later, but it was nice to get this glimpse for now. Henry slipped out and joined Sam under the large blanket he’d wrapped around himself. Sam’s arm muscle flexed as he pulled Henry close.
Pointing toward the horizon, Sam said, “Mercury’s rising.” Trailing his finger in a line up and to the right he added, “That’s Saturn next, then that bright star is Antares. Just past the moon is Spica, and that’s Jupiter right above it.”
“Back on the island…” Henry’s voice was shaky, and he paused to take a deep breath. They were seeing a therapist together as well as separately to help them deal with this upheaval in their lives, and he’d learned that bottling his feelings was a big no-no. “I, uh, would do that corny thing people make fun of in movies—I’d look up at the moon and wonder if you were doing the same.”
It was such a cliché, but it had helped make the separation more endurable. Then in the daytime sometimes he’d looked out over the immense expanse of wide blue ocean and tried to determine the exact direction that would point to home. Home to Sam with his gorgeous, always-kind eyes and sweet quirky smile.
Sam landed a kiss to Henry’s forehead and held him tighter. Sam was as sensitive and serious as he’d been before their separation, but he was also happy. Not in a boisterous jolly kind of way, but it was clear enough to Henry.
“I did the same in the early days, before giving up hope,” Sam murmured into Henry’s hair.
“I worried so much about how you were managing.”
“It was such a shock. I felt like I was all alone in the wilderness trying to make sense of my life. All I wanted to do was rail against the airline, the bomber, fate…the universe.”
“Welcome to the club.”
Sam snorted, then shivered. “I’m chilled to the bone. Let’s go inside.”
“Aiden should sleep for another couple hours, at least.” Henry waggled his eyebrows.
Sam’s crooked grin appeared. “That sounds much better than the coffee I was planning.”
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene: Henry's POV - Waking Up on Valentine's Day
Told from Henry’s 3rd-person POV, and written using these words pulled from a random word generator (https://www.randomwordgenerator.com/): grow – cream – promotion – hover – coma
Henry jerked as he blinked awake, then he snickered at the sight of Sam’s hand hovering over his head as if its owner couldn’t quite decide the struggle between petting Henry’s head and letting him sleep. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” Henry murmured.
Petting won the battle. “Love you,” Sam whispered the return greeting as his fingers laced through Henry’s hair. “Sorry, you looked like you were having a bad dream.”
“I dreamed about the island again.” But Henry didn’t want to worry his husband with details of that stormy night he’d relived in his dream. He grinned and turned on his side to face Sam. He had good memories to balance the bad. “I wonder what I was doing a year ago today?” Sam already knew that he and the other survivors had stopped tracking individual days a few months into their experience. Ultimately, they’d kept track of the longer periods like moon cycles and years but hadn’t wanted to know which specific day it was out in the world. That would have been too depressing.
“Same as every other day?”
Henry snorted. “Yeah, pretty much.” They’d had plenty to do each day just to survive, but there’s also been time to sit and watch the grass grow and the waves lap the shore while obsessing over what Sam might be doing. Henry closed the gap between them and kissed his husband. “How about you? I guess it was better than our first Valentine’s Day apart.”
Sam would have spent last year with Nash, his fiancé at the time. In fact—Henry winced, remembering that Sam had previously mentioned he’d proposed to Nash on Valentine’s Day. Based on Sam’s grimace, he was remembering that, too.
“Sorry,” Henry muttered. “Will I ever learn to think before I speak?” Hell, Sam wouldn’t want to recall their first Valentine’s Day apart, either. Poor guy had probably wished for a medically induced coma to get through it.
“Forget it.” One side of Sam’s mouth quirked up, and he took a deep cleansing breath. “Remember our first Valentine’s Day together?”
Henry nodded. “We were also celebrating my recent promotion. You gave me a gorgeous bouquet of lavender and cream-colored roses.”
Sam’s fingers traced a tingly trail down Henry’s side. “We’d already said ‘I love you,’ but still, I’d wanted to do something different from clichéd red roses.”
“Perfect choice.” Henry snuggled closer. Even after eight months back home, he still relished quiet moments in Sam’s arms more than just about anything. Just about. He pressed a kiss to the curve of Sam’s neck. It was early enough they might have the opportunity to—
They sprang apart at the sharp click of the door across the hall opening. Sam puffed out a soft laugh. “Tonight.”
“Tonight,” Henry whispered as Aiden knocked on their closed door.
Uses the prompt word (naïve) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (captain – island – parade – cannon – fountain – prize– evening – book – film – target – lead – key – faint – garden) from a random word generator.
Told from Henry’s 1st-person POV:
Aiden’s eyes widened as he turned in a circle taking in the array of rides and games offered at the Apple Blossom Festival’s carnival. His jaw dropped as the quickly spinning “Round Up” began to tilt. “Dad, why aren’t those people falling off?”
“Centrifugal Force,” Sam replied.
Aiden’s face scrunched up. Typically, he’d ask for a definition, but this afternoon there were too many distractions. Instead he pointed in another direction and said, “That’s the biggest slide in the whole world!” He turned to me. “Papa, can I go down it?”
After spending most of his life growing up on a tiny island where he’d been marooned with me and two other men, Aiden might have been naïve, but he certainly wasn’t faint-hearted.
“Probably. That’ll be up to your grandparents, though.” We were meeting Aiden’s birth families here to pass him over into their care for the weekend. We’d purchased a carnival ride wristband in advance for him, but not for ourselves. We didn’t plan to stay since we didn’t want to intrude on Aiden’s grandparents’ time with him. There was a film festival this weekend as well, and we’d be heading to that this evening. I’d miss experiencing this with Aiden, but we would have him for the Apple Blossom Parade next weekend, instead.
Sam laid a hand on Aiden’s shoulder and pointed at the line of carnival games. “Let’s go win you a prize while we’re waiting for them.”
“Yeah! Let’s do that!”
Sam took the lead, and we passed by a game where some guy dressed like Captain Hook was luring customers to his booth to fire tennis balls out of a plastic cannon in hopes of getting one to not bounce back out of the angled array of bushel baskets. If there was any way short of dumb luck to win that game, I wasn’t sure what it might be.
We settled on a simple booth where Aiden could throw darts at a wall of balloons. The woman gave Aiden three darts. Sam squatted to Aiden’s level. “Look, the darts are dull, and the balloons are underinflated. The key to winning is to not worry about accuracy. Just throw it as hard as you can and hope you hit your target.”
Aiden reared back and threw his first dart with all the strength his thin little arm could muster. He didn’t hit a balloon, he didn’t even hit the board where the balloons were attached. At least he didn’t hit the woman running the booth. His second dart hit the board and bounced off. He took a deep breath, narrowed his eyes in concentration, and hurled the last dart.
“Yay!” Sam and I cheered. That last dart had barely landed inside the board’s frame but had picked off an edge balloon in the process.
The woman checked the prize marker inside the exploded balloon. “Fantastic!” She was all smiles as she showed it to Aiden. “You won the top level prize!”
I knew before he said it which prize Aiden would select. He’d been learning about dinosaurs lately and was utterly fascinated by them. Especially the—
“That one!” Aiden’s ear-to-ear grin was infectious as he pointed to the large stuffed Tyrannosaurus Rex. When the woman handed it to him, he gave it a big hug (because T-Rex’s are so innately cuddly) before turning and jumping up and down and waving. “They’re here! Hi! We’re over here!”
Sure enough, it looked like everyone in each of the clans—Aiden’s maternal and paternal extended birth families—was here to enjoy the festival. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Aiden’s paternal Grandmother, Rosa, scooped him up and gave him a big hug and kiss. “We’re going to have so much fun today!”
“I know,” Aiden said. “Look what I just won!”
“I see. That’s wonderful!” Rosa raised an eyebrow in my direction, and I took the hint.
“Aiden,” I said. “How about Dad and I take that home for you. You won’t be able to get on any rides holding it.”
The wide eyes and contorted mouth on his expressive face told us his opinion on that. I quickly added, “It’ll be waiting in your room for you when you get home on Sunday.”
He appealed to Sam. “How come I can’t get on rides with it?”
“It wouldn’t be safe, so it’s a rule.”
His brows came together as he heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Okay.” He handed his precious new dinosaur to me. “Maybe he can guard my dinosaur books while I’m gone.”
“There you go,” I said. “I’ll set him up in front of the bookcase.”
He reached for me, and I took him back for a goodbye hug and kiss, then passed him to Sam for the same. We waved goodbye then stopped by a couple food stands to pick up an early dinner before heading to the film festival.
We settled down by a fountain in Memorial Park to eat the sirloin burgers and curly fries we’d picked up at the Ramblin’ Gourmet, and the chocolate dipped fruit on a stick we’d gotten at Shishkaberry’s (because, you can’t go to a festival and not eat some kind of food on a stick).
“Fancy meeting you here!” Nash, Sam’s former fiancé, plopped down next to him, and Nash’s husband, Emmitt remained standing in front of us.
“Small world.” Sam gave Nash a hug then held out a hand to shake Emmitt’s. “Great seeing you guys here.”
“Yeah, good to see you again, too.” Nash peeked around Sam to flutter a hand at me. “How’s it going, Henry?”
“Life’s good. You guys going to hop on some carnival rides?”
“Nah. Gonna to grab some festival food then check out the Blossoms and Brews. We’re going to see The Secret Garden at the Fifth Avenue Theater tonight.
“We’re seeing that tomorrow night,” I said. We packed a lot into our “free” weekends each month when Aiden’s grandparents took him. Maybe too much.
“Cool.” Nash stood. “Well, I just wanted to say ‘Hi.’ See you around.”
They walked off, hand in hand. I glanced at the time on my phone, and no longer felt like rushing to pack in as many cultural activities as we could. “How bad to you really want to see the Femme Friday screenings?”
Sam quirked an eyebrow. “I thought you wanted to see them.”
“I do, kinda. I really want to see that play tomorrow, but if something’s gotta give so we can get in some quality ‘us-time,’ I’d rather lose the film festival.”
Sam’s Henry-melting grin appeared, and he leaned in so close his warm breath wafted over the sensitive skin by my ear. “We could always rent something very not-child-friendly for our very own private screening at home.”
I shivered deliciously at the thought. “Now you’re talking.”
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.
🔽 🔼 ALTERNATE UNIVERSE SCENE: Jonathan's POV - To the Rescue! Part 1
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.
🔽 🔼 ALTERNATE UNIVERSE SCENE: Jonathan's POV - To the Rescue! Part 2
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.
🔽 🔼 ALTERNATE UNIVERSE SCENE: Devon's POV - To the Rescue! Part 3
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.
He stepped in and said, “Who’s next?”
🔽 🔼 ALTERNATE UNIVERSE SCENE: Garrett's POV - To the Rescue! Part 4
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.”
🔽 🔼 ALTERNATE UNIVERSE SCENE: Henry's POV - To the Rescue! Part 5 - Final
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.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #1 (Chap. 2)
Dr. Sam Greene flinched reflexively as Dr. Henry Miller plopped down in the window seat beside him. Sam hated flying. In fact, “hated” didn’t begin to cover the emotions he felt when he thought about getting onto an airplane. He dreaded his coming reactions. He feared he wouldn’t be able to conceal his irrational anxiety from his colleague.
To make matters worse, Henry wasn’t just any colleague. Like Sam, the man was openly gay, and Sam had been drawn to his outgoing, cheerful personality. Despite Sam’s better judgement, he was strongly attracted to the man’s lovely brown eyes, which always reflected such passion in whatever he was discussing, and to his lithe, lean body, and his gorgeous thick, wavy dark brown hair. In short, he was personable and beautiful, and way out of Sam’s league.
Henry said, “I’m glad you thought to ask for exit row seats. The leg room is great.”
The leg room. Sam managed to avoid rolling his eyes in self-mockery. The leg room had little to do with his obsession for exit row seating.
“Sure,” he replied absently. “That’s nice, too.”
Henry lifted an eyebrow, inquiringly. Fuck. Why had he added “too” to that comment?
Sam felt his face heat up and forced himself to reply with as much composure as he could muster. “I hate flying. I feel better in an exit row.”
“You know, if the plane goes down we’re all goners anyway.”
Sam felt the blood drain from his face, and Henry quickly added, “It’s not going to go down, Sam. Flying is safer than driving, and you drive every day.”
How embarrassing. Well, at least Henry was forewarned, and he wasn’t the type of man to tease about such things.
“I know. It’s just one of those things. Don’t you have anything you’re irrational about?”
Henry didn’t answer the question. Probably because the answer was a resounding “no.” Instead he replied kindly, “Before you know it we’ll be on the beach in Honiara collecting data and soaking up the sun. I promise.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #2 (Chap. 3)
That had been the polite but decisive and unquestionably short answer Sam had given Henry. They’d been eating dinner when out of the blue, Henry had blurted out something about going back to his room for a drink afterward. Sam had been pretty sure the invitation was intended to be for more than “a drink.” Sam had panicked and declined.
It was just as well. Mixing business with pleasure was never a good idea. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself. No way was someone as handsome, confident, and personable as Henry interested in him for anything long term. He had a mirror. He knew he wasn’t good-looking by any objective standards. And his personality might as well be non-existent.
Someone like Henry could have anybody he wanted. Sam knew the man’s interest could only be because Sam was convenient while they were here together in the Solomons.
It kind of pissed him off. They still had a few more days to spend together in Honiara, then weeks in close proximity, collecting data on some of the smaller islands. Then they’d be back to rubbing elbows in the biology department at the university. Now with this “offer” hanging between them it was going to be awkward if they didn’t clear the air.
There wasn’t much Sam liked less than having to broach an embarrassing topic of conversation, but clearly it needed to be done. And he needed to stop fantasizing about his co-worker. He’d probably been too obvious, and that’s why the man had thought he’d be okay with a fling while they were here.
That was easier said than done. Sam straightened his shoulders and headed down to the breakfast buffet to meet Henry, and face reality.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #3 (Chap. 4)
Sam finished filling his plate at the buffet, then took a deep breath before crossing the room to join Henry at his breakfast table. He dreaded the upcoming conversation.
He sat down, and before he could bring up the subject of Henry’s “offer” from last night, Henry launched into a nervous sounding speech about the relative nutritional benefits of the different varieties of seaweed found in the waters around the Solomons. Henry finally paused for air after asking Sam something about kumquats.
Sam ignored the question. Hell, he hadn’t been paying attention and wasn’t even sure what Henry had asked. He’d been too busy watching Henry’s strikingly beautiful brown eyes dance nervously around the room. Obviously Sam had been correct in thinking things would be awkward between them if they tried to simply dance around the elephant in the room.
Sam swallowed, then blurted, “I feel like I should explain… about last night.”
Henry paled, then blushed. He didn’t say anything but his lips thinned out, and he started picking at a loose thread at the seam of his shorts.
Fuck. He needed to just get this over with. “Uh, it’s not that I wouldn’t be interested. It’s just that I don’t want to jeopardize our working relationship. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hook up with someone I work with and see almost every day.”
Sam cleared his throat and bounced his leg. He stared at his plate, occasionally peeking up at Henry, who remained silent, but now also looked embarrassed and… wounded. Shit. He didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings.
Sam continued, “I guess I should confess that I’ve had a bit of a crush on you, otherwise I could probably just be an adult about it and not think anything of a little fling with you while we’re here. I just don’t think I’ll be able to go about business as usual once we get back to reality and this little affair you’re offering is over.”
Goddammit. He had a bad habit of oversharing when he was nervous. He didn’t think Henry was the type to tease him about what he’d just said, going forward, but it would probably add to the awkwardness between them rather than alleviate it.
“Is that what you think? That I’m just interested in a couple rolls in the hay while we’re here, then go back to innocuous conversations about curriculum and lab results as if this summer never happened?”
Sam lifted his gaze from the table to stare inquiringly into Henry’s eyes. It wasn’t? “Um…”
“It’s not. I’ve been drawn to you all year, too, Sam. I like you. I want to get to know you on a more personal level. I’d absolutely love to date you, now and continuing when we return to Seattle.”
Sam’s jaw dropped. “Oh.”
His jumpy leg shifted into overdrive, and he couldn’t stop his reflexive grin. Gorgeous, personable, and highly intelligent Henry Miller wanted to date him. “Okay, then.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #4 (Chap. 5)
“They’re very tolerant of flooding,” Sam said, continuing an earlier conversation they’d been having about mangoes. Henry’s eyes widened as Sam droned on. “Up to fifty days even. The trees develop these hypertrophic lenticels…”
Finally, Henry took the bait and silenced him with a kiss. Sam smiled as the kiss ended.
“I was wondering what it would take to get a reaction out of you,” Sam said.
Henry groaned. “What? You mean all that jabbering was just to see what I’d do?”
“It worked.” Perfectly, in fact.
“You know, if you want me to kiss you, you can just ask.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
Henry grinned then leaned over to kiss him again, apparently agreeing with his impeccable logic.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #5 (Chap. 6)
Sam took a deep breath and knocked lightly on the jamb of the open doorway to Henry’s office. Henry looked up and grinned.
“Hey, come on in. What’s up?”
The way Henry’s eyes lit up when they saw him eased Sam’s concerns. This was a big step, but it was vitally important to Sam. Ultimately, it was a potential deal-breaker in their relationship.
“My family wants to meet you.” Best to just blurt it out. Let the chips fall where they may.
Henry put down the red pen he’d been holding and set aside the stack of homework papers he’d been grading. His brows drew together and his eyes widened. Alarm, perhaps?
“I figured that would go over better than ‘oh, shit.’”
Sam coughed nervously. Of course, considering Henry’s own parental situation, it wasn’t unreasonable for him to be anxious. But still…
Outside Henry’s window the wind rustled leaves, blowing them across the open space between buildings. Sam watched them swirl by, afraid of what he might find if he turned back to look into Henry’s eyes. He feared Henry’s answer, but he had to ask. “So, you don’t want to?”
“I didn’t say that,” Henry replied quickly. “Look at me, Sam. Please?”
Sam turned his gaze back to Henry. “So you will?”
“I’m just nervous. You know how things are with my family, right?”
“Sure, but I’ve told you mine isn’t like that.”
“I know. Maybe it’s one of those irrational fears. Me and meeting families is like you and flying on airplanes.”
Sam snickered and his shoulders relaxed. “Okay, okay. I get it. Remember, though, I don’t let it actually keep me from flying.”
Henry sighed with faux drama, bringing up a hand to clutch his non-existent pearls. “Just say when, and I’ll be there.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #6 (Chap. 7)
Sam came awake as Henry’s arm snaked across his body to silence the alarm on Sam’s bedside table. Once the noise was stopped, Henry flopped back on his pillow and moaned.
“Why on earth did you set the alarm for six A.M.?”
Sam turned onto his side and reached across Henry’s chest. He nuzzled Henry’s neck and whispered in his ear, “Maybe I have plans for you. I need to thank you properly for meeting my family last night.”
Henry stilled. He’d been so nervous about meeting Sam’s family. Needlessly, of course. Sam had always known they would accept Henry with open arms, but Henry’s experience with his own family had left him unreasonably worried.
Henry turned his face and captured Sam’s mouth with his own, and his arm encircled Sam. There was nothing subtle about Henry’s hand prodding Sam, encouraging him to slide his body on top of Henry’s. Sam didn’t need much coaxing. He shifted into place and gently rutted.
Henry’s movements were slow and sensual, grinding his hips upward, dragging his fingertips along Sam’s back, before firmly settling his hands on Sam’s cheeks, pulling him in tighter and gradually increasing both pace and intensity until they soared, gasping, in each other’s embrace.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #7 (Chap. 8)
“Not tonight,” Henry muttered. Something was wrong. Not that it wasn’t perfectly fine for Henry to decline sex, but there was something in his tone. Sam turned to look at his boyfriend. It was too dark in the room to tell if Henry was blushing, but the tension in his facial muscles indicated discomfort.
“Everything okay?” Sam asked. His eyebrows came together in concern, and he pulled back his roaming hand.
“Yeah, no biggie.”
“Something’s wrong. Tell me, please.”
“Is it something I did? Something I said?” Sam searched his memory, but could think of nothing.
“No. You’re fine. I love you.”
Henry’s body stilled as soon as the words were out. Sam stiffened as well. Neither of them had said those words before. Henry was dropping them nowwhen something was clearly wrong between them, whether or not he wanted to admit it?
“You love me?” Sam replied.
Henry turned his face toward Sam and gazed into his eyes. “Yes,” he whispered.
A smile inched across Sam’s mouth. “I love you, too, Henry.”
“Yeah. So tell me what’s wrong.”
Henry puffed out a loud sigh. “Fine. My stomach hurts. I’m constipated, okay? Are you happy now, making me say that?”
“Oh. Sorry you’re not feeling well, hon. Have you taken anything?” Sam relaxed with relief that Henry’s problem was nothing more than temporary minor digestive discomfort.
“Yes. I’ll try not to disturb you in the night.”
“You could never disturb me,” replied Sam. He pulled Henry into his arms and landed a smiling kiss on his lover’s brow. Henry loved him.
Henry’s limbs softened as he rested his head on Sam’s shoulder, snuggling into Sam’s chest. Sam briefly tightened his arms around Henry, giving a light squeeze, then he closed his eyes and reveled in pleasant thoughts of the future, sharing his life with this wonderful man.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #8 (Chap. 9)
“How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” The words weren’t lyrics, but Henry sang the words with a little made-up tune.
Sam snorted, and couldn’t resist a smile. He turned up his head to give Henry a peck. “Is that your way of saying dinner’s ready?”
“Yeah, your mom says to get your butt inside.”
Sam hoisted himself up from the patio chair and took Henry’s hand in his. “Anything to get you to stop singing.” Which wasn’t true, of course. Henry couldn’t carry a tune to save his life, but Sam loved how Henry cheerfully busted out into song whenever the whim took him. He cupped Henry’s cheek to make sure Henry knew he was jesting. “And I love you, too, goofball.”
“We should get married already.”
Sam stared. “Was that…a proposal?”
Not that Sam was any kind of a hopeless romantic, but still, that was not like anything he’d ever imaged. Of course he wanted to marry Henry. He’d been working up the courage to do the asking himself, but was Henry being serious, or was he joking around?
Henry’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed and bit his lip. “Do you want it to be?”
What the fuck? Did he want it to be? What did Henry mean by that?
Although really, it was kind of quintessential Henry. The man’s mouth tended to get ahead of his brain, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t sincere. It meant that he’d spoken before having a chance to plan how he’d say something, but not before spending time thinking about the subject. When Henry blurted something out, it generally meant he’d had the topic on his mind and had spent a lot of time mulling it over.
“You’re the one that said it. Do you want it to be?” Sam needed to be sure. He didn’t want to trap Henry.
“I guess that was pretty shitty as proposals go, but it’s my first.” Henry paused and took a deep breath. “Yes, I would like it to be. Sam, will you do me the honor of being my husband?”
Sam stared into Henry’s eyes. Sure it had been a “shitty” proposal, but that last bit had been heartfelt, Sam was sure of it. Henry’s forehead glistened, and the worry evident in his eyes reinforced Sam’s feeling.
“Yes,” Sam whispered.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #9 (Chap. 10)
“What about our names?” asked Sam. “Do you want to change yours, or should I change mine?”
“I don’t know. We have our degrees, all the way through doctorate in our birth names. We use them professionally. You don’t think it would be weird or confusing to have two Dr. Greenes or two Dr. Millers in the department?”
Didn’t Henry want to share a name as well as their lives? Sure, it was a paperwork pain in the ass, but wouldn’t it be worth it? Sam would be willing to do it if Henry didn’t want to deal with the hassle. Henry did have a point about their degrees, though. Their birth names were on the certificates hanging in their offices. But still…
“Well, it’s not like we don’t have different first initials. I think university students are smart enough to not get confused over something that simple.”
“I guess. If anything, it should be me changing to match you. Your family rocks, mine disowned me. No point in honoring my name.” Henry heaved a heavy sigh. “I guess maybe I wouldn’t mind ditching the name, closing out that part of my life. I don’t know. I’ll think about it, okay?”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #10 (Chap. 11)
“Do you think it would help if I made the phone call?” Sam’s dad offered.
Henry took a deep breath. His entire body was tense. It was obvious he didn’t want to do this, but it seemed to Sam that not attempting to include Henry’s parents in their wedding would be a slight that would cut off any hope of a reconciliation.
“No,” Henry replied. “I don’t think it would make a difference. I know you have a hard time understanding that parents could be so resolute in rejecting their own child, but they really don’t want anything to do with me. If it means that much to you guys that I try to extend an olive branch with a wedding invitation, I’ll make the call myself. Seriously, though, I don’t hold out any hope.”
Sam’s mom shook her head sadly. “No, I can’t understand it. You’re a wonderful young man. You’re smart and outgoing, you’re kind, you’re witty. I don’t understand a religion that could turn parents against their son simply because he’s attracted to other men—like-minded men—and not to women. It has no effect on how we feel about our son.”
“They’re not like you and Truman, Claire. Their lives revolve around their church. If their church says I’m evil, then to them I’m evil.”
“Is it possible they’ve done some research? Modified their thinking? Some churches have been updating their doctrines regarding homosexuality,” Simon added.
Closing his eyes, Henry’s fingers worked overtime fiddling with the spare button sewn onto the underside hem of his shirt. A sure sign he was stressed.
Henry’s eyes reopened. Maybe it would be better to let this go. Henry didn’t talk much about his family, but what little he’d shared did give the impression that they were unyielding in their convictions—or at least Henry believed they were.
Sam searched Henry’s eyes and resolved to give up the cause, but Henry spoke first. “I’ll give them a call.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #11 (Chap. 12)
Henry sat drumming his fingers against his thigh, with his cell phone pressed lightly against his ear. As pale as Henry appeared, Sam was no longer so optimistic of a positive outcome. Henry’s judgment was usually pretty sound, and he clearly didn’t hold out any hope. Sam rested a hand on Henry’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze of encouragement.
“Think positive,” Sam whispered. “Maybe they’ll be thrilled to hear from you.”
It was doubtful the words changed Henry’s opinion of what his parents’ response might be, but the hard expression in Henry’s eyes softened as he returned Sam’s gaze.
Henry stiffened at the same time a muffled voice said “Hello?”
“Dad?” Henry replied.
“Who is this?” Either the volume of Henry’s received was cranked up, or the man spoke loudly—maybe both—but Sam could easily hear both sides of the conversation. That query made no sense, though, since Henry’d mentioned he had no brothers.
“Are you calling because you’ve come to your senses?”
Sam’s gut twisted. He should never have pushed Henry to make this call. Henry remained silent, and the muffled voice added, “No?”
Henry’s jaw tightened. “I’m calling because I’m getting married.” He bit out the words. “I thought you might want to know. Might even want to come.”
“Marrying a woman?”
“So you’re still a faggot.” It was a statement, not a question. It was said in a voice dripping with venom. “Do me a favor. Change your name. I don’t want my name associated with a faggot wedding.”
Henry disconnected the call without saying another word and dropped the phone onto the tabletop as if it burned his hand. He turned to face Sam. “I want to hyphenate our names. Will you do that with me?”
I’m sorry. Sam opened his mouth to say the words, but they stuck in his throat. How could he have put his fiancé through that? “Absolutely,” he replied. At this point he’d do whatever Henry wanted, but he hoped it was for the right reasons, and not for revenge. “If you’re sure that’s what you want.”
Henry nodded. “Miller is my name, too, goddammit. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life using that name, so yes, it’s what I want to do.”
Some of the tension left Sam’s shoulders as Henry stood and stepped into Sam’s open arms. “I love you,” Henry whispered.
“I love you, too.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #12 (Chap. 13)
As they went around his family’s Thanksgiving table, each taking a turn to say what they were thankful for, Sam couldn’t help but think about how wonderfully his life had come together. He was happier than he’d ever imagined possible since Henry’d first asked him out during their joint research trip in the Solomons. His heart skipped a beat as he glanced at Henry. He was over the moon now that he and Henry were engaged to be married.
Sam was thankful his family had embraced his fiancé with open arms. They’d never questioned Sam’s sexuality, and they’d never done or said anything to make him feel less loved because of it. Henry’s family, sadly, was another story.
Henry’s expression was thoughtful as he listened with a studious concentration to each person’s thanks. When his turn came, Henry said, “I am thankful for Sam’s love. I’m thankful that I’ve gained not just a future husband but his whole wonderful family. Thank you all for making me feel so welcomed and loved.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #13 (Chap. 14)
After the first verse of the song finished, Sam and Henry waved Sam’s parents onto the dance floor to join them. Sam’s mom wiped a tear from her eye as his dad led her out. Henry squeezed Sam’s hand and snuggled into his chest. Sam tightened the arm holding his brand-new husband, and they swayed to the slow melody. Henry’s eyes closed, a soft smile on his lips.
When Sam’s parents married back in 1977, they’d danced the first dance at their wedding reception to Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.” Henry had asked about it back when their wedding was still in the planning stages. His eyes had widened when Sam told him the name of the song.
“Your parents mean the world to me,” Henry had said, “and I want to honor them at our wedding. Do you think they’d mind if we used the same song? As a tribute to them?”
“Mind? No,” Sam had replied. “They’ll love it.”
“The song is perfect.”
Sam had laughed. “Only because you are so beautiful. I’m certainly not.”
Henry’s expression, with one side of his face screwed up, had conveyed sincere confusion at that comment. He’d shaken his head and snorted. “I’m ordinary. You…your grin…wow. It melts me every time you level it in my direction.”
Now, warmth radiated through Sam’s chest knowing they were officially married—that he could proudly introduce Henry as his husband. Thinking back to Henry’s comment he had to agree with Henry’s assessment. Objectively, they were each probably fairly “ordinary,” appearance-wise. But the song emphasized the words “to me.” To Sam, Henry was stunningly beautiful, and apparently, Henry thought the same of him. There was no better feeling in the world.
When the song ended, Sam landed a feather-light kiss on Henry’s temple, and Henry whispered, “I love you so much.” Nuzzling at Henry’s ear, Sam repeated those words back to him.
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #14 (Chap. 16)
Sam bit his lip at the sight of Henry’s exaggerated wince as they pulled up outside the house on Lake Sammamish. “Let’s just look inside. We’ve driven all the way out here and all.”
“Sure.” Henry nodded, and they joined the real estate agent at the front door.
“It looks bad, I know,” she said. “The inside is a wreck, too, but the bones are solid, and you’ve got to consider the location.”
They’d already agreed that a commute into work was a small price to pay for a peaceful setting in the suburbs, and the proximity of this listing to Sam’s parent’s home was a huge plus. Wandering through the house, Sam had to remind himself to breathe. Yes, to say it was a “fixer-upper” would be putting it mildly, but the condition was the reason it fell within their budget. This house was likely to be their only chance at a home right on the lake.
The layout was great, the amount of space was just what they were looking for, and there were so many charming architectural features they could salvage to turn this house into a beautiful home. Sturdy built-in shelving, crown molding…
“None of the fixtures or appliances have been updated in thirty years, at least,” Henry remarked. “the bathroom and kitchen need a total remodel, everything needs to be painted, this popcorn ceiling shit would have to go, the carpets stink of dog piss, and the yard is a weed-filled jungle.”
Sam calmly ran his hand over the stone wall. It was gorgeous. “Look at this, Henry. It’s amazing.”
Henry turned slowly, studying the room, his brows drawn together. A dog barked in the distance, and the faint sounds of happy children’s voices floated through the open patio door. Sam stood, unruffled, certain Henry would make the right decision. He just needed to process all the data.
Henry expelled a deep breath and turned to Sam. “We won’t be able to afford the kitchen and bathroom remodels for a year or two, but if we spend every waking minute of the summer working on it, I think we can find the money to update the rest.”
A slow smile stretched across Sam’s face. “We need to add replacement windows to the list, too. But can’t you just picture how beautiful this place could be with a little TLC?”
Henry’s nod was barely perceptible, but his smile was just Sam wanted to see. “Let’s make an offer.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #15 (Chap. 17)
Sam bounced in place and smiled reflexively as Henry hurried toward baggage claim. It had been seven longs weeks since they’d seen each other—in person, anyway, not counting Skype. When he arrived at the empty luggage carousel, Henry tapped his foot and stared at the backs of the people in front of him.
Clearly, he hadn’t noticed Sam waiting. Sam snuck up behind him and took a deep breath of Henry’s scent before murmuring, “How was Greenland?”
Henry jumped, but his smile was wide when he spun and threw his arms around Sam’s waist.
“Damn, I missed you!” he said. “And the answer to your question is ‘cold.’ So how was India?”
Henry tightened his arms, giving Sam a big squeeze. “Much as I appreciated being able to see and talk to you every day, thanks to modern technology, nothing quite beats getting a big hug from you in person.”
“Nothing? At all?”
Henry smirked. “Well, I’ll think about it on the drive home and let you know if I come up with any ideas.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #16 (Chap. 18)
With a spring in his step, Sam approached the bathroom where Henry was finishing up, sealing the grout on the floor of the master bath. Their final project. At long last, they were finally done.
“You know what we need to do after we finish this bathroom remodel?” Henry asked, looking up.
“Seriously? You want to take on another project after this? There’s nothing left,” Sam replied. His eyes widened, although the role reversal was kind of amusing. Sam was the one who’d wanted to buy the fixer-upper. Henry’d needed to be convinced.
“Well, it won’t be pressing, like this other stuff was. And we can easily drag it out as time and our budget allows.”
Sam squinted. “What do you have in mind?”
“Finish the basement. Build us an awesome game room like Bill has. We could start hosting some of your family gatherings, and it would be great for when we have friends over.”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea. I know my nieces and nephews would love it.”
“Yeah, so would we. My only fear is that we might get distracted by it when we should be grading papers.”
Sam laughed. “Nah, I know you better than that.” While Sam wouldn’t call Henry a workaholic—he loved his leisure time, too—he did have a strong sense of responsibility and always took care of obligations before he played. “You’re right, though. The basic finishing would be simple enough to do, then we can add decorative touches as we go along, like build a bar, maybe, and add cool lighting. We can pick up games and furnishings as we find good deals over time.” The more he thought about it, the better Henry’s idea sounded.
“Exactly, a lifetime project we can enjoy adding to for the next fifty years.”
Sam snickered. “I can just picture us as a couple of eighty-year-old men still competing for the high scores in Dig Dug and Donkey Kong.”
I’ll concede to your greatness in Donkey Kong, but it’s time for you to admit you’ll never beat my Dig Dug score.”
“I admit nothing.”
“Fine, then you’d better watch your back with our future Donkey Kong machine.”
Sam waggled his eyebrows and grinned. Henry had such a fun competitive streak, Sam couldn’t resist teasing him. “I look forward to the next fifty years of watching you try.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #17 (Chap. 19)
Sam sighed as he stepped out of the bathroom. His cousin Jenna’s unexpected death had hit him hard. He’d had no appetite the last few days since hearing the news, and had functioned on auto-pilot. It had hit Henry hard, too. Henry had sat through the funeral service this morning like a zombie, and later at the luncheon, even considering it was a somber affair, he’d remained uncharacteristically silent.
Now Henry sat in the living room, staring out at the lake, and Sam’s heart ached. It ached for Jenna’s poor husband, Richard. It ached for his aunt and uncle who’d lost their thirty-one-year-old daughter. And it ached for Henry, who was apparently putting himself in Richard’s shoes.
He stepped silently to where Henry sat and placed his hands on his husband’s shoulders and gently massaged. Henry’s head flopped back, and Sam planted a kiss on his forehead.
Patting the seat next to him, Henry said, “Join me.”
Sam sat, and drew Henry into his arms. “You going to be okay?”
Sam rubbed Henry’s back, waiting for him to unburden.
Henry sighed. “I can’t help thinking, what if it was us? How would I cope if it had been you? And how much I would hate to know you were suffering if it was me.”
Sam caressed Henry’s back as he imagined the horror of such a scenario. His stomach clenched at the mere thought of going through life without Henry at his side. He pushed the nightmarish image from his mind and murmured, “I’d never get over it, so I guess you’ll have to stick around.”
Henry pulled back, and his eyes glistened as he looked into Sam’s. “No, this is serious. I can’t stand the idea of you being miserable. I want you to promise that you’ll find a way to be happy again if I die. Promise you’ll move on, find love, remarry, don’t be alone. Promise.”
“How can I promise a mindset? I can’t help how I’d feel.” Besides, he knew how he’d feel. Such a promise wasn’t possible.
But Henry persisted. “Find a way. See a shrink if you need to, but don’t spend your life grieving for me.”
Much as Sam didn’t want to think of such a possibility, he could see Henry’s point. “Can you promise the same? Will you be able to get over me?”
Henry’s head dropped forward. Clearly, he couldn’t glibly make such an agreement either. At length, he nodded. “I love you so much. I’ll promise to do my best. If I’m ever faced with that, I’ll get help and not let myself sink into a depression.”
“I love you, too. With all my heart,” Sam said. He couldn’t guarantee a mindset, but he could agree to an effort. “Okay, I’ll promise the same. But don’t ever die, goddammit.”
A smile quirked at Henry’s lips. “I’ll try not to, you big goof.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #18 (Chap. 20)
“This is a nice park for kids, don’t you think?” asked Sam as they drove past on their way home from the market.
Not entirely surprisingly, one of Henry’s eyebrows popped up. But was it simply because Sam’s comment had come out of left field, or because he didn’t like where this conversation seemed to be heading? “Yes, it’s pretty cool.” Henry’s voice held a cautious undertone.
“Baseball diamond, swings, and climbing things. The pavilions look like a great place for a family picnic, too.” Sam had considered a more direct approach to broaching the subject of possibly adopting children with Henry, but he’d gotten the feeling that easing his husband into the idea before putting him on the spot might be better. Sam’s shoulders tensed as a quick glance caught Henry with a classic deer-in-the-headlights glaze to his eyes as he stared out the windshield. Sam second-guessed himself, but tackling the question directly would likely dash all hope at this point. “It’s close to our house, too.”
“Yeah, it’s too bad we spend so much time in the evenings prepping for classes. Not to mention the traveling we get to do every few years. It would be tough on a kid.”
At least that wasn’t a firm “no,” but should he press on now, or leave the idea to start brewing in Henry’s mind? He should probably—
“Speaking of baseball, the Mariners are about to begin a home series, so we should get tickets, yeah?”
Right. Time to drop the subject…for now. Sam blinked, then nodded. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #19 (Chap. 21)
A rush of clicks arose from the keyboard of Henry’s laptop. Sam took another bite of the leftover Filipino grilled chicken he’d brought for lunch and smiled as he caught a glimpse of Henry in his peripheral vision, leaning back in the spare chair he kept in his office, feet up on the low credenza, carefully avoiding the surfeit of potted plants littering the top.
“The flight on the third looks good to me,” Henry said. “Takes off at five thirty-seven in the evening. Thirteen hours, but I can sleep through it, right? There’s a one hour stop in LA, but I won’t have to change planes.”
Sam looked up from his lunch and blinked. He hated even thinking about their upcoming separation. But this wouldn’t be the first time, nor would it be the last. “Yeah, that’s best for a long flight like that. Overnight.” He pointed with his fork toward the plate on the desk in front of him. The chicken had been a big hit at Sam’s family’s pot luck the previous night. Henry’s cooking was one of the many things he was going to miss while Henry was in Fiji. “this is even amazing left over, Henry. What are the flavors?”
“It’s an adobo marinade. The chicken soaked in it overnight. Coconut vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns.”
“Ah.” Sam nodded and rolled his chair to look over Henry’s shoulder at the screen.
A timid knock on the office door jamb accompanied by a nervous-sounding “Dr. Miller-Green?” interrupted Sam before he could look over Henry’s flight info.
They both looked up at the student.
“Oh, uh, that one,” the man said, inclining his head toward Sam.
Sam smiled, relaxing the young student. “What can I do for you, Brandon?”
“I was wondering about the test tomorrow.”
Sam waited in silence, his eyebrows raised inquiringly.
“Uh, what’s it covering?”
“Everything in unit fourteen is fair game.” Did students really think their teachers would give them specifics of what would be on a test beyond what had been reviewed in class if only they’d come ask privately? Whatever they figured the odds were, it didn’t stop them from trying.
The kid sighed but forged on. “How long is it going to be?”
Sam picked up a random sheet of paper from his desk and, with his lips pursed to the side, looked at it as if he was critically analyzing the it. Then he took a page out of his dad’s playbook. “I’d say it’s about eleven inches long,” he deadpanned.
Brandon huffed and rolled his eyes. Not that Sam blamed him. It’s how he’d often reacted to “dad jokes” that he’d been the butt of over the course of his childhood. He rather enjoyed being the one delivering the bad jest rather than being the victim of it.
Still…Sam relented a little. “Same as always, Brandon. Some of you will finish with time to spare, and some of you will still be writing furiously when the bell rings. Just know the material in unit fourteen, and you’ll do fine. Do you have any specific questions about something in the unit you don’t understand?”
Brandon shook his head in defeat. “No, I guess not. I should just go study it all, huh?”
That’s what I recommend.”
The student turned and they listened to his footsteps retreat down the hallway. Sam once again peered over Henry’s shoulder. “Have you made your seat selection?”
“Just about to.”
“Are there any exit row seats left?”
Henry’s brief smile didn’t go unnoticed. Sam’s face heated, but knowledge that Henry was amused by his phobia didn’t make it go away.
“Not available,” Henry said. “I could sit toward the front for a faster exit when we land.”
Right. Or a faster death if the plane went down. “No, look.” Sam pointed at the wing area on the seating chart. “There’s an aisle seat right behind the exit row. How about that one?”
“Okay.” Henry surrendered without a fight. He always did in the end. Sweetheart that he was, he didn’t really even push much with teasing about it. Henry clicked on the seat icon and finalized the purchase, then sat back and gazed lovingly into Sam’s eyes. He didn’t say anything for several moments, then shivered before casting a grin at Sam. “I love you,” he simply said.
A slow, mellow smile curved across Sam’s mouth. “I love you, too.”
🔽 🔼 Flashback Scene Retold from Sam's POV - #20/FINAL (Chap. 22)
“Six weeks,” Sam stated. “It’s going to seem like forever.”
“It won’t be that bad. Before you know it, I’ll be back here in your arms.”
Sam tightened those arms around Henry. “That’s because you’ll be in fucking Fiji, but I’ll be teaching a time-condensed intro class. One of us will be in paradise, the other not so much. Maybe if I just don’t ever let go…”
Click for the rest only if you are 18 or older.
Henry kissed him, then whispered, “How about you just concentrate on making sure I’ll still be able to feel you for the first week, hmmm?”
Sam snickered. Henry always found a way to lighten the moment and make him laugh. Warmth spread through him as he reached for the drawer in the bedside table.
Henry smiled and closed his eyes. His body arched as Sam’s hands roamed his body, then traveled lower, to prepare him. Henry’s eyes reopened when Sam moved into place above him.
Henry’s head lifted to claim Sam’s lips, pushing in with his tongue as Sam pushed into him. They moved together, their harmony perfectly synchronized from years of learning each other’s wants. Perspiration glistened on Henry’s forehead, And Sam’s dripped, adding to the mix. The room was silent except for the rocking of the bed, punctuated by unrestrained moans.
Finally, Henry shuddered in release, groaning into Sam’s neck. Sam sped up, and convulsed as he found his own. Afterward, they lay mutely with Henry’s head tucked comfortably at Sam’s shoulder. Sam quivered as Henry alternated between slowly tracing a finger back and forth along Sam’s treasure trail and carding his fingers through the hairs on Sam’s chest, while Sam gently rubbed circles on his back. Snuggling like this in bed, afterglow or otherwise, was something Sam would miss every night of Henry’s absence.
“I’ll be back in no time at all,” Henry whispered. But, was he trying to convince Sam…or himself?