Christine Granger answered the door, exclaimed, “Henry!” and enveloped me in a huge mama-bear hug. Then she burst into tears. I patted her back, and as much as I appreciated the sentiment, I hoped the whole afternoon wouldn’t be a chain reaction of this behavior. But considering Christine was the wife of my old department chairman, and I’d seen her only a handful of times each year, that was probably an optimistic expectation.
Sam held Buddy—or I should say Aiden. The almost-six-year-old had decided he wanted to use his “real” name after all. Although his upbringing thus far had been decidedly primitive, he was intelligent and quickly picked up on what would be considered typical behavior back here in civilized society. Apparently, he wanted to assimilate.
With their blond heads side by side, I could almost imagine Sam to be Aiden’s biological father, but of course, neither of us was. I looked nothing like either of them, sporting dark brown hair and brown eyes. Their coloring similarities ended with their hair. Sam had eyes the color of worn denim, and Aiden’s were a warm hazel. Like me, Aiden was over-tanned, having spent the past five years stranded on a South Pacific island, while Sam had been living in Seattle, completely oblivious to our plight.
Anyway, my husband held Aiden, and flashed a smirk in my direction that was probably meant to appear sympathetic, but was closer to demonstrating his enjoyment of my discomfort.
Christine pulled back, sniffing. “Henry, I still can’t get over it. I’m so glad you’re alive.”
I smiled. “That makes two of us.”
She emitted a short tittering sputter but wasn’t otherwise sidetracked. “Bill was so torn up with guilt for sending you on that trip. And seeing Sam so miserable just ate away at him. He felt like he’d personally ruined two lives.”
Sam’s eyes widened. Apparently, he hadn’t picked up on that. No shocker there, because one of the things that made Bill a great department chairman was that he was good at keeping his personal feelings out of decisions that needed to be made—or at least good at masking them. Poor Christine must have taken the brunt of his moods.
Sam spoke up to reassure her. “Nobody ever blamed Bill. I certainly didn’t. He had no way of knowing what would happen to that plane.”
Of course Bill hadn’t known. Nobody had. Obviously, none of the passengers or crew would have gone on that ill-fated flight had they known a terrorist had planted bombs, and that all but four would perish when the pilot was forced to ditch the plane in the ocean. As one of the fortunate survivors—fortunate despite spending five years left for dead and fighting for survival on a tiny island—I wouldn’t have willfully chosen that path for my life. Although I had to admit to being a bit torn on that, since Sam and I wouldn’t be adopting Aiden now if Aiden and I, together with our fellow survivors, hadn’t gone through that ordeal.
Christine ushered us through the house and out into the surprisingly sunny—for Seattle—early summer afternoon. Immediately Bill and a number of the other Biology department professors made a beeline to where Sam, Aiden, and I stood.
I hoped my gamble with humor would help Bill release the burden of guilt Christine had mentioned. As a collateral benefit, maybe it would defuse any potential repeats of the mini-scene upstairs.
I smiled at Bill, lifted my arms to the side, palms up, as if to imply a “what the fuck?” attitude, and blustered, “‘Go to Fiji,’ he said. ‘It’ll be great there in June. The dry season will be in full swing. It’ll be like a working vacation. You deserve a nice research trip like this after that stint in Greenland.’ Seriously, Bill?”
Bill chortled. He shook his head and blinked as if trying to keep the tears glistening in his eyes from falling. “I authorized six weeks, dammit, Miller-Greene, not five years. That’s just taking advantage of my good nature. I hope you understand I had to replace your lazy ass. I doubt you even collected any data on your extended holiday.”
I cracked up and several of my former colleagues moved in to pat me on the back. “Well, to be fair, I had a decided lack of instrumentation, or even a damned pencil or paper for the records.”
“Okay, okay. I might see fit to let you take on that night class you inquired about, seeing as there was a slight travel and communications mishap. I guess I can’t put all the blame on you.”
© 2016 Addison Albright