Prologue: Unsettling News
Nash rubbed his hands over his face and raked them through his spikey blond highlighted hair. “Seriously, Sam,” he said as he plopped down on the sofa. “How can you stay so calm, with the wedding only three weeks away?”
“Isn’t that the wedding planner’s job? To do all the worrying for us?” But Sam knew better. Harley, their wedding planner, was also Nash’s best friend. Although abundantly competent, Harley was high strung and tended to run every little status detail by Nash.
“He’s great, but no, worrying still falls under the grooms’ jurisdiction.” Nash’s grass green eyes twinkled as he heaved an exaggerated sigh and placed the back of his hand against his forehead in a teasing display of faux-dramatics. “I guess I’ll just have to agonize enough for both of us.”
“No…” Sam grinned and leaned over to kiss Nash’s furrowed brow, then his nose, then finally his lips before coming up for air to add, “Nobody needs to worry. Or you can let my mother do it for us if you think someone must.”
“Your mother is a peach. I adore your mother. Can I adopt her?”
“She’s already unofficially adopted you.”
“I think she’d love anybody who makes you happy.”
Sam groaned softly. Of course she would. Nash had made his life enjoyable again, and his whole family loved Nash for it. Nash had heard the stories. “I put them through hell. Dark times. I’m so glad I met you.”
The oven timer went off and Sam got up to check on the roasting chicken pieces. “It’s ready,” he hollered from the kitchen after pulling the pan out of the oven. “Will you pour the wine, hon?”
“Just a sec. Someone’s at the door. Damn, I hope Harley hasn’t come up with something new to stress me out.”
Sam opened a cabinet, pulled out two dinner plates, and began dishing up the roasted meat and vegetables. When he turned around, Nash was standing in the doorway with his eyebrows drawn tightly together.
“Sam,” he hissed. “There are two military policemen at the door asking for you. What the fuck is going on?”
“MPs? I have no idea. They didn’t say?”
“No, they want to talk to you. They’re setting up a laptop computer out there.”
Sam’s eyes widened. Why on earth would military police need to talk to him? Even if some piece of that fucking, fucking airplane had washed up at this late date, he doubted family would be pointedly notified, let alone paid a personal visit. No, it couldn’t have anything to do with that old tragedy.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out.” He straightened his shoulders and walked to the living room. Hopefully he wasn’t about to be arrested for something he couldn’t even understand.
“I’m Sam Greene, how can I help you gentlemen?”
The two visitors glanced at each other, then the thinner man with the sharp nose and clear blue eyes clarified, “Samuel Miller-Greene?”
“Well, yes, technically. I never changed it back after my husband died. I use the full name for signing documents. I just tend to shorten it these days for casual use.”
The men shared another glance and seemed satisfied with that reply, giving each other barely perceptible nods. The man with the round face and warm brown eyes spoke. “I’m Major Johnson and this is Sergeant Rosings.” Sam nodded and they all shook hands. “May we all sit at your table here, Dr. Miller-Greene? We have some images to show you, and I think you’ll find this news rather unsettling.”
Sam felt the blood drain from his face. Unsettling. That sounded like it might be a softer way of saying awful. He took a deep breath and asked, “May my fiancé join us? I get the feeling I’m going to want the moral support.”
Major Johnson’s lips twitched a bit at the question, but he quickly recovered his composure and replied, “Of course.”
Nash moved to Sam’s side, introduced himself, and they all sat down.
Major Johnson cleared his throat, took a quick look at Nash, then returned his focus to Sam. “Dr. Miller-Greene, a discovery was made this morning during a drone training exercise in the Pacific.”
Fucking hell. A “discovery” in the fucking Pacific Ocean. Apparently a grisly discovery rather than a simple chunk of fuselage to warrant a personal visit like this. Sam stiffened and felt Nash’s hand slip into his.
Major Johnson continued. “Some people were spotted on a remote and insignificant island. They were determined through initial surveillance to be stranded there. When the drone descended to make itself known, the individuals communicated with it by writing in the sand. They identified themselves as survivors of the TransOceanic Flight 3012 plane crash and wrote out their names.”
Sam sat rigidly and held his breath as Major Johnson paused. Survivors? Could it really be possible? These men wouldn’t be here making a personal visit to inform him, would they, unless…?
“Dr. Miller-Greene, we’d appreciate it if you would give a positive identification of the man who indicated he was your husband, Henry.”
Time seemed to stop as Sam stared into the man’s eyes, trying to comprehend what he’d been told. Nash’s hand crushed his.
“Henry’s alive?” His voice broke with just those two words, and that’s all he was able to manage.
Chapter 1: Irony and Dignity
“Call me when you land, okay, Henry?”
“It’ll be something like six-forty tomorrow morning, your time,” I replied. The summer class Sam would be teaching started tomorrow, but he still wouldn’t need to get up that early.
“Humor me. Please?”
I’d been infected with the travel bug years ago when I’d taken my first research trip as a graduate student. If there was an antidote, I didn’t want to take it. Now that I was married, I admitted that the weeks-long separation from my husband put a damper on my spirits for work-related travels, but it wasn’t strong enough to make me want to stop. It was just a few weeks, after all.
“I love you, you know.” I stared into his captivating blue jean-colored eyes and smiled, squeezing his arm in a manner I hoped was comforting. “Yes, I’ll call. I know you’ll worry if I don’t.”
Sam blushed and grinned sheepishly. “I know it’s dumb, but I appreciate it. Thank you.”
I looked over my shoulder at the security queue. “The line’s growing. I’d better jump in.” Turning back toward Sam, I added, “Thank you for coming in and helping me with the luggage.”
“It’ll be six weeks before I see you again. Of course I came in.”
“We’ll Skype tomorrow. Compare notes on Fiji’s weather with the rain we’re expecting here in Seattle.”
I got the laugh I was trying for out of Sam. “I know. It won’t be the same, though.” Then he sighed. “Well, I hope you can get some decent sleep on the plane. Thirteen hour flights are no fun.”
I nodded in agreement, then stretched up to kiss my husband goodbye. I knew Sam wasn’t big on overzealous public displays of affection. Hell, neither was I, but I needed one last taste before leaving him for so long. It was an airport goodbye kiss, not a make-out session, so fuck anyone who was still bigoted enough to be “offended” by the sight of me giving my husband a farewell kiss. Much as I looked forward to this research trip, since I was heading back to the South Pacific—as opposed to Greenland, where I’d spent time two summers ago—I was not looking forward to the long separation from Sam any more than he was.
My younger, pre-Sam self would’ve fake-gagged at the sight of the two of us simpering and continuing to make eye contact as I threaded my way through security, but clearly I wasn’t that man anymore, since I didn’t give a damn right now what anybody thought. But eventually, with a final wave, blown kiss, and glimpse of Sam’s beautiful grin, I headed to my departure gate.
I thought of Sam again as I settled into the aisle seat directly behind the exit row over the right wing. He’d insisted that I get a seat as near as possible to one of the emergency exits. I always indulged his phobia even though I felt it was pointless.
I nodded at the businessman across the aisle from me as he settled into his seat and pulled a tablet out of his small carry-on bag. He dipped his head in return and gave me a friendly but rhetorical “How’s it going?” before turning to the screen in his hands.
I wondered what was bringing a man in a suit to Fiji, not that the idea was unheard of. Hell, I was heading there for work, myself, but I just didn’t need to wear a suit. More than likely he was getting off in Los Angeles, anyway. But he didn’t seem interested in real conversation, so I didn’t ask.
I closed my eyes and caught an early nap for the shorter Los Angeles leg of the flight. I dreamed of Sam and how, once we’d exhausted ourselves last night, I’d spent what had seemed like hours caressing his torso, carding my fingers through the flattened sandy blond hairs covering the gorgeous muscles of his chest, and following the trail up and down his taut abs, until finally his larger hand had stilled mine, and we’d fallen asleep.
We were opposites in so many ways, and yet perfectly matched. His quiet, thoughtful personality meshed seamlessly with my outgoing speak-before-you-think persona. My smaller, lean frame fit exquisitely against his larger, bulkier, muscled physique. I loved the way the dark hairs on my arm contrasted with the light sprinkling on his when he wrapped his strong arms around me, and the gentle smile he’d wear while combing his fingers through the springy dark mat on my chest.
In L.A., the businessman did not get off after all. We nodded again to each other when we saw we were each staying on board, but he turned back to his tablet, apparently making the point he wasn’t interested in generating small talk with strangers.
No problem. I stood to let an older couple into my row, then turned my attention to people watching and concocting stories about why they were on this flight to Fiji.
I decided the businessman was a tropical produce importer and was meeting with suppliers on the islands. I imagined that the older couple who’d sat next to me was enjoying an anniversary trip to their original honeymoon spot. I could have asked them, but, like the businessman, I didn’t want to open the door to a conversation that might end up being more than I bargained for.
I pretended the two women in front of me, who were clearly traveling with each other since they had their heads together giggling, were celebrating their respective divorce settlements with the dream vacation their ex-husbands never took with them. Then I admonished myself for creating such a mean-spirited history and changed it to fancying them as a lesbian couple on their own honeymoon.
The young man next to the window sitting by the “lesbian couple” seemed to be traveling alone, although he glanced around the plane a few times like he was searching for certain people, so I concluded he was traveling with others who’d bought their tickets separately. His story, I originally decided, was that he was a rich kid traveling on a whim with his trust-fund buddies. He just didn’t give off that vibe, though, so I changed it to being a college kid on an athletic scholarship, still traveling with his buddies, but using money he’d saved over the years from part-time jobs, and maybe some birthday and graduation gift cash.
That was as far as I got before the flight attendants called our attention to the standard safety procedures, and the plane taxied to the runway. I thought of Sam again as the plane took off. Take-off and landing were the worst parts of flying for him. He’d sit rigidly in his seat, clutching the arm rests with his eyes closed. He’d done that on our way to the Solomon Islands on our first trip together back when we were merely colleagues. By the return flight, he’d gripped my hand instead.
I recognized that take-off and landing really were the most dangerous parts of the flying experience. I didn’t have Sam’s phobia, though, so I was relaxed as the plane took off, as well as for the next couple hours as I flipped through the in-flight magazines stashed in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. I didn’t even have any trouble eventually falling asleep.
I liked to think of myself as a realistic optimist, or perhaps, more accurately, an optimistic realist. I recognized we were bound by the rules of nature, that facts and statistics were what they were whether I liked them or not, and life wasn’t necessarily fair. At times it could be exceedingly unfair, sometimes in my favor and sometimes against. I knew this from personal experience. So the realist in me said that flying was safer than driving. I’d certainly heard that statement enough times. I was pretty sure I’d even been guilty of using it on Sam.
I jerked awake when loud booms and clanking noises reverberated from somewhere behind me, and were echoed by a couple more bursts from the front. My ears popped painfully as the plane decompressed and the air rushed out. I froze in terror as it occurred to me that at least in a car you had some control over your own destiny, whereas in a plane you were likely totally fucked when something catastrophic happened.
That feeling was confirmed as the plane careened into a very steep, rattling, angled dive toward the ocean, far below. The oxygen masks dropped, and I instinctively reached up and fumblingly put mine on.
A brief strangled sob-like noise escaped me before I was able to choke it back. My fists clenched, and I fought to suppress the nausea churning in my gut.
I did my best to remain calm, and by that I meant retain some semblance of dignity in my final moments of life by not totally freaking out. That was no easy feat when surrounded by hundreds of screaming people as we all accelerated toward certain death.
The “life flashing before your eyes” thing we’ve all heard about was real. At least it was for me, although “flashing before my tightly closed eyelids” was probably a more accurate description. Moments from throughout my life raced through my mind, but I forced my thoughts to focus on Sam. I wanted to be thinking of him as I died.
I thought of the first time I’d told him I loved him. I sent a renewal of that love out to him and wished him happiness. I thought of a promise we’d once made to each other and hoped Sam would remember it, too, then my mind zipped back to the pathetic marriage proposal I’d made and apologized to him in my mind, because he deserved so much better.
I was hoping the end would be quick and painless, when awareness that the plane was leveling out broke through the trance. My first thought was “damn,” because I figured we were doomed regardless, but the quick and painless prospect was looking less likely if we hit at a shallower angle. I briefly regretted my reflexive grab for the oxygen mask, figuring that passed out might be a better way to go into the crash than fully conscious, but that regret was short-lived because having the opportunity to say my mental goodbyes to Sam was worth whatever I would face.
Hope surged through me as the pilot somehow managed to bring the plane back to a fully horizontal position. The plane rattled and shook alarmingly, so unless we were near land we were still probably screwed, but the realist in me was overpowered by the optimist for now.
The screams lessoned, then stopped, although several babies still howled. I held my hands together against my belly to stop their shaking. Whiny moans of various pitches and volumes still arose from all directions, punctuated occasionally by hysterical shouts to shut up. As grating as all of these reactions were—making an already stressful situation even more so—I wasn’t going to judge anyone’s natural response in such extraordinary circumstances.
No instructions came over the speaker system, but the flight attendants yelled from their seats, basically telling us to remain in our seats with our seatbelts fastened, and to put on—but not inflate yet—the inflatable life vests that were under the seats in front of us.
I did that, then noticed the older couple next to me doing the same. They’d managed to get their oxygen masks on. How pathetic was I, not even thinking of them after securing my own mask? Too late now. They were no longer necessary and were being removed so the vests could go on.
I reached out to touch the old lady’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”
They appeared calm and accepting of whatever their fate was going to be. They nodded, and the old woman said, “Yes, we’re fine.”
Then the old man stretched his arm across to pat me on the leg. “We’re okay, sonny. Don’t you worry about us. We’ve had a good and long run, and if this is it, then at least we’ll get our wish to go together.”
I glanced at my wedding ring. As much as I wanted a mental connection with Sam right now, I was glad he wasn’t actually with me. If I survived another fifty years I’d likely be in agreement with that sentiment.
“You, on the other hand,” continued the old man, “have got most of your life still to come.” He nodded toward the exit in the row ahead of us. “Don’t you dare throw away your chance, if you get one, by delaying to try to help us. I don’t want that on my dying conscience.”
“Nor do I,” said the woman. “Please just take care of yourself.”
My eyes widened. “I don’t…”
“No sonny, you listen. We refuse to get between any of these young people around us and that exit. We wouldn’t last two minutes in the water if that’s where we end up anyway, so it wouldn’t make any sense.” He lifted his hand off my knee and pointed at my face. “Promise me right now that you won’t hold back to help us. I want your word on that.”
I hated the thought of not helping people who might need assistance, but I also understood their argument, which went back to my earlier concern about dying with dignity. The woman dipped her head in agreement with her husband’s words. They had the right to make that choice for themselves. I gulped, then nodded.
“Say it,” he insisted.
I took a deep breath before answering. “Okay. I promise.”
“Good man,” he said, then relaxed into his seat and took his wife’s hand in his. I saw him give her hand a squeeze as they both closed their eyes.
I closed my eyes again, too, and tried to shut out the noise, and regulate my breathing. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. There wasn’t anything I could do to change it, so I went back to thinking of Sam in an attempt to remain composed. I figured my odds of survival were no longer as completely non-existent as they’d been minutes ago, but they were still stacked against me, and dammit, I was going to die with dignity.
I mentally reviewed my life with Sam and renewed my sad attempts at telepathy, sending out apologies for things I regretted and would likely never be able to correct or tell him in person. I sent out more declarations of love, and I thought again about how Sam had been looking over my shoulder when I’d made my seat selection and had pointed out the seat I now found myself sitting in. It occurred to me that it was possible in these unique circumstances that his phobia would actually save my life.
Probably not. Most likely the impact when we ditched would kill us all, but I couldn’t help myself from picturing the possibility.
I wondered what time it was and how near or far we were to land. How long had we been rattling our way across the ocean at this lower elevation? I didn’t wear a watch because I always had my mobile phone with me and could look at it for the time. Except that mobile phone was in my carry-on pack in the overhead, so maybe “always” wasn’t quite the correct word after all.
I opened my eyes and dared to look out the window. It was raining. Lightning flashed and I saw how close we were to the water. “Scary close” was the answer to that question. I still had no idea how near we were to land, but figured the odds of a water landing—or ditch—were much greater. The way the plane rattled and shook, it had to be incredibly crippled.
Were we still on the original flight path? We’d definitely been angling to the right during that steep dive, and I didn’t know if the pilot had been able to adjust his course after pulling out of it.
My sense of time was screwed up so I also had no idea how long we’d been traveling in this new direction. Was the radio working? The overhead speakers weren’t. There’d been bangs from the front as well as the back. I was by no means an expert, but that seemed to me to indicate foul play, and radios might very well have been a target to add mystery to the plane’s demise.
I didn’t get the opportunity to dwell on this because the plane dropped low enough that it began skimming the water. Whatever was going to happen, was happening right now. The flight attendants yelled out for us to brace for impact.
I closed my eyes and put my head down and protected it with my arms. The next moments were incredibly jarring. I bounced around in my seat to the extent that my seatbelt allowed. The screams renewed. My teeth clenched so I wouldn’t contribute. Stuff—luggage from the failing overhead bins and who knew what else—flew around, hitting people. I was hit several times.
The sudden stop was just as jarring as the bouncing landing had been. It was also loud, with a horrible groaning and screeching noise coming from the front of the plane, followed quickly by rising water coming from that same direction.
I didn’t remember removing my seatbelt, but I found myself standing in the aisle surrounded by a crush of bodies pushing toward the exit on the right, because the plane was listing to the left as well as to the front. The man I’d imagined to be a vacationing college student was thankfully quite efficient at opening the emergency door. After stepping out, he reached back over and over to pull people out.
I watched as people tried to make their way up the wing, but slipped and fell off prematurely. Hopefully my no-skid boat shoes would help me make it to the end of the wing if I made it out. No, when I made it out. Despite the quickly rising water, it had become a very real possibility with only three people still ahead of me.
The opinions of the geniuses at MythBusters notwithstanding (considering their experiment was with a fairly small boat), I knew there were a number of forces and influences coming into play when a large object such as a ship or commercial airliner sank, causing a violent turbulent mixing in the water. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that. Not to mention that anything floatable that might come up with force, or parts that might fall off, could cause me serious injury. So I considered making it to the end of the wing before jumping off to be important to my potential survival.
Water covered my feet and was rising fast. It was almost up to the bottom of the door outside on the wing. Once it breached that door it would be essentially over for anybody still inside the plane except at the tail section exit doors. My entire body vibrated, and my teeth chattered despite the warm night air. Hurry, people, hurry!
A man and a woman were ahead of me, the man was in the process of exiting. To my left, a screaming baby moved toward me from the waterlogged front section, mosh-pit style. As I stepped into place behind the woman currently exiting, the baby was thrust into my arms.
I was the end of the road for the baby. There was no one for me to pass it on to. Ironic, considering that one of the mental apologies I’d just made to Sam was regarding my resistance to his recent hints that he’d like to adopt kids.
I held the baby—I think he qualified as an older baby as opposed to a toddler, but it was probably a close call—against my chest, and he wrapped his arms tightly around my neck while he continued wailing in my ear. As we pushed out the exit door, water started to come over the lower lip. The “college kid” grabbed my arm with a strong grip and hauled us through.
“Hurry!” he yelled.
I did. I cleared out of the doorway as fast as I could because I knew only one, maybe two more would make it through after me. I didn’t want to think about what was going on behind me as I worked my way up the wing. That part was a little slower going since I was holding that baby, which affected my balance. The angle of the wing was also rising, but was still doable. It was going to be almost like leaping off a standard high-dive if I made it to the end.
My slower pace up the wing allowed the “college kid” to catch up to me. Apparently no one else was going to make it out that door, so he was free to abandon his duties as an exit-row passenger. I had to commend him for hanging in there to help haul people out. I’m certain it sped up the process and saved at least a couple lives, maybe my own.
The “lesbians” had stuck around, too, forming a short chain to pull people partway up the wing as they exited, until a man had slipped, and the three of them had fallen together into the water below.
The “college kid” now hauled the “businessman” who’d been sitting across from me—evidently the final passenger out that exit—along by the arm. With those slick-soled business shoes, he’d never have made it up the wing otherwise. He had trouble with his feet sliding even with the younger man’s help. I shifted the baby to my right side and held him tighter with that arm. The kid had a hell of a grip around my neck with his fists tangled in the hair at the back of my head. There was no way he was letting go or falling off me, so I felt like I could spare my left arm to grab the businessman’s other arm. Between the three of us we were pretty stable as we climbed to the end of the wing. A flash of lightening lit the sky as we approached the top, and I spied a small island in the distance at the ten o’clock position when facing straight out from the wing.
“Running leap,” I yelled. “We want to get out and away.”
They apparently agreed since they both sped up. As we leapt off the end of the wing, I retrieved my hand from the businessman’s arm to protect the kid’s head by holding it against me. I also did my best to lean so my body, not the baby’s, would take the force of the landing in the water. I held his face against my neck as we went under and hoped he’d know enough not to breathe.
We came up sputtering, and the baby was finally shocked into silence. He didn’t appear to have actually sucked in any water while we were under, and he took deep gasping breaths.
I continued to hold the kid with both arms, moving him higher up on my body so both our heads would be at the same level out of the water. I kicked backward toward the other two men. They each grabbed one of my arms and continued to hold each other so we formed a little circle. Between the noises of the airplane sinking, the storm, and the waves, communication was difficult.
“Did you see the island?” the “businessman” shouted.
“Yes,” I hollered back, and the “college kid” pointed toward where it had been. I got a sense of which direction the current was flowing and hollered again to explain. “We need to swim that way, across the current.” I cocked my head to the right of where the island was located.
“But it’s that way,” the “college kid” yelled, thrusting his index finger directly toward the island again.
“We have to factor in the current,” I shouted back. “It’ll take us past the island if we don’t. We won’t have enough energy left to make progress against the current once it does.”
“He’s right,” yelled the “businessman.” He turned to me. “Are you sure about the direction of the current?”
“Yes! I spend a lot of time in the ocean with my work.”
He nodded, satisfied with my answer. The “college kid” did, too, although he seemed less convinced.
The “businessman” pulled the cord on his life vest and it inflated with force. The “college kid” did the same. I looked at them and knew I’d never be able to hold onto the baby with any kind of secure grip if I inflated my own. Those things were incredibly bulky, bulging way out in front of them.
My jeans weighed me down, and I decided I should take them off to improve my chances of making it to that island. The time spent shedding the weight and drag would be worth it even though the current would pull us while doing so. The other two also saw the wisdom of kicking off shoes and heavy pants without it having to be said. The “businessman” had apparently removed his jacket on the plane since I didn’t see it underneath his life vest. I was only able to lean back and get myself unbuttoned and unzipped one-handed, and needed their help pulling them down my legs.
The sounds behind me changed, and when I dared to turn for another look at the plane, I saw it was almost gone. Anyone who was going to escape was already in the water, and I didn’t see nearly as many as I expected. No one else was close to us and those we saw were now down-current from our location. We would jeopardize our chances if we swam in their direction, so we limited ourselves to shouting.
We all shouted and pointed. “There’s an island! We saw an island over there! You have to swim this way across the current!”
Satisfied that we’d done all we could, and seeing the others start swimming in that direction, we did the same.
“Lean back,” instructed the “college kid.” “Straighten out and kick and we’ll pull you and the kid.”
If we made it to the island, I would owe my life to these two men, because without their help I didn’t think I would make it. I was pretty sure I could have done it solo, but I was holding that baby, and despite my vague aversion to the younger generation, I would never be capable of just letting the kid sink to save myself. Apparently the two men had a similar moral compass.
They each grabbed me under an arm and pulled backward through the water with their remaining arm. We kicked for all we were worth.
I kept the baby’s head out of the water, putting us face to face. His death grip moved to my hair instead of around my neck, and I tried to remain in the most aerodynamic position I could manage.
I have no idea how long we were in the water struggling toward that island. My best guess was forever. It certainly seemed that way, but realistically it was probably between one and two hours, considering the distance.
I held the kid tightly and patted his back as I forced myself to keep kicking. “Hang in there, Buddy,” I murmured. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
I didn’t want this poor baby to drown. He hadn’t even had a chance at life yet. We’d been fortunate enough to be four of only a couple dozen people to make it off that plane. I wasn’t going to fuck up our chances by giving up because my legs were spent. I sure as hell didn’t want to die yet, and I didn’t want to put Sam through the pain of losing me so early.
The rain stopped as we got close. We’d managed to get across the current ahead of schedule, barely, and were able to ride it in to the beach. Fate was on our side for our landing because coral was not a problem on the path we rode to the island. Perhaps the high tide kept us elevated enough above it. Whatever the reason, I was thankful, because otherwise our rough landing would likely have caused injury, and even simple infections in these conditions could ultimately be fatal if we weren’t rescued quickly enough. Landing was difficult enough managing with jelly legs and a baby, without dealing with coral, as well.
My two helpers crawled up the beach, half-dragging me as I propelled myself by pushing off with my legs. We lay there gasping for a minute before our shaking from shock forced us to take action.
One doesn’t typically imagine being cold when thinking of South Pacific islands, and it usually isn’t. But in June, depending on where we were, the ocean temperature could be anywhere from the mid-to-upper-seventies, to the mid-eighties, Fahrenheit. It had felt like the warmer end of that scale when we’d first jumped into the water. The temperature of the night air on the Solomon Islands would typically drop to the low to mid-seventies at night this time of year. On the southern Cook Islands, it would be closer to the upper-sixties on average.
I wasn’t sure where the hell we were; all I knew was my teeth were chattering like we were in the Arctic rather than the tropics. I think it was the shock of our experience rather than the actual temperatures of the water and air causing it, but the result was the same either way.
“C…c…can’t keep these wet c…c…clothes on,” said the “businessman.” “It’ll k…k…kill us.” He sat up and wrestled off the life vest. Then he tried to unbutton his shirt, but eventually gave up and just tore it open and pulled it off.
The “college kid” and I pushed ourselves to do the same. “It’ll kill us” might have been a slight exaggeration, but the poor baby was shivering and whimpering. I peeled off his drenched clothing and sodden diaper, then my own shirt went the way of the “businessman’s.” Buttons were just too difficult to deal with. We took everything off and tossed it into a pile.
I rubbed the poor shivering kid and held him to my chest as we all huddled together. The little guy produced a soft noise that was a cross between a hiccup and a sob, breaking my heart, before finally succumbing. We fell into an exhausted sleep, our bodies in a collective tangle striving for elusive warmth.
© 2016 Addison Albright
Oh, NOOOOOOOO!!!!! What’s going to happen next?