Rescued by the U.S. Air Force, Jim, Staci, and Lou are thrust into another agonizing situation. No one finds it easy to be under adult supervision after being on their own for so long, but without the support of the family, can the teens come to terms with the tragedies that have befallen their families and themselves? How will they cope with what is to come? What will happen to the new addition to their group? Uncertainty is all around, but surely God didn’t bring them this far, together, just to separate them all now?
Jim Kirk leaned back in the seat of the USAF helicopter and glanced at his sister Staci, wanting to make sure she was all right. Sitting in the seat beside him, Ailsa Cudby slid her hand into his. He squeezed it tightly as he turned his gaze to the window. He didn’t want either of the girls to see the tears in his eyes. He’d left his best friend Lou Benson behind, something he’d sworn he’d never do. She was like a sister to him, even if she didn’t want to admit it.
They’d been through so much together the past few months. They were like the musketeers. All for one and one for all.
It should have been all of them who stayed, or none.
Below them he could see the vast swath of blue Pacific Ocean. Above them the huge rotor blades whirled and thudded. The helicopter banked a little to the left as it changed to a new course heading. He craned his neck but couldn’t even see Agrihan as a tiny dot anymore. There was nothing below him but blue water.
“It’ll be OK, Jim.” Ailsa’s quiet voice came over the headset he wore.
Jim shook his head. Things would never be OK again. He slowly reached up and turned on the microphone attached to his helmet. “How can it be when we left Lou behind?” he asked.
He blinked hard. He’d never see her again.
He looked down again at the logbook on his lap. One of Lou’s coded entries lay in front of him. She’d written it in mirror writing, so he couldn’t read it—until an officer had lent him a mirror. He read it again.
I’m dying. Mafuso reckons there is nothing he can do. Not that he told me that. He insisted I was fine and healing nicely. I overheard the conversation with Amilek, and when I confronted him, he didn’t deny it. The infection in my damaged leg is too deep. Fixing it is beyond his medical knowledge, and we’ll never get rescued in time. I’ve always known I’d never recover from this. That’s why I’m not leaving Agrihan. I’ll go with the others to the base and then come back here to the village and spend my last few days on our island in the sun. It’s for the best.
Jim, when you eventually read this, forgive me for the way I’ve been acting. I didn’t want you to know, because I hate goodbyes. I love you, I always have. Ailsa is good for you. Be good to her. Tell Stace I love her too. Take care of her. And tell Mum…
Tell her I love her and I’m sorry.
Jim turned his face back to the window, his eyes stinging and his stomach tying itself in knots. This was his fault. He’d lost her, because of a stupid idea he’d had to pay her back for drawing sharks, dots, and other things all over the logbook. Because of him, she was dying, and he’d left her behind to die alone.
Lord, if I’d known, I’d never have left her. I shouldn’t have done it. Forgive me…for I can’t forgive myself for this.
One of the officers touched his arm. “I need you to talk to the doc flying out to the island. She needs to know about your friend’s injury.”
Guilt flooded him anew and he swallowed hard. “OK.”
A new voice rang in his ear. “Hi, I’m Dr. Andrews. Can you tell me what happened?”
“Lou got attacked by a shark in September. I did what I could, but I’m no medic, and we didn’t have much on board the boat.”
“Did you call for help?”
The spear of guilt dug deeper. “No, we couldn’t. The radio was broken and the phone had gone overboard in an accident. We were too far from land, so…” He paused. That was a pretty feeble excuse. He should have done more. He was the adult, after all. Forcing his emotions down—after all, he was a man and men didn’t have emotions—he gave the doctor all the information he could, along with what plants Ailsa and the village doctor, Mafuso, had used.
“But her leg smells again,” he finished. “And according to what I’ve just read in the logbook, there was nothing more Mafuso could do. She’s dying.”
“We won’t let that happen,” Dr. Andrews said firmly. “I have the OR standing by and I’m taking a team with me. Colonel Fitzgerald is treating her now, and I’ll start working on her as soon as I arrive.”
“I don’t know her blood type or her allergies. Nichola, her mum, would be the best person to ask. I know she, Lou, gets a lot of migraines.”
“I’ve already spoken to Mrs. Benson.”
“Is she really there?” he asked. “And my parents?” It wasn’t that he doubted Colonel Fitzgerald’s word that they were alive—after all, the officer had no reason to lie to them—he just wanted to be sure before he allowed himself to hope.
“They sure are, and planning on meeting the chopper as soon as it lands.”
Jim closed his eyes as the doctor signed off and the headpiece went quiet. Thank You, God, for keeping my parents safe. Let the medical team get to Lou in time. Let Colonel Fitzgerald persuade her to come back or have him bring her kicking and screaming, ’cause I can’t lose her now. Not after all we’ve been through.
Staci kicked him. “Hey, don’t fall asleep. You’re not allowed to fall asleep. We’re going back to civilization and to find Mum and Dad.”
He opened his eyes. “I’m not sleeping.”
“And no checking your eyelids for holes either like Dad does on a Sunday afternoon. We all know what that means. It’s like reading with your eyes shut.”
“OK.” Jim smiled slightly. Not even her enthusiasm would rub off on him at this point.
“You suppose Mum and Dad will be cross we left on our own?”
“They’re bound to be. Ground us for at least fifty years, most likely.”
Staci scrunched up her nose for an instant, then grinned. “Sounds good to me. I don’t want to leave a nice, warm house with glass windows and a roof that doesn’t leak for a long time. Just think, Jim. A house that has light switches. Hot water that comes from a tap and plenty of it. Bubble bath. Sheets. Blankets. Proper toilets that flush, with a lock on the door, and toilet paper. Meals I don’t have to cook. Roast chicken, chips, and pizza. And chocolate. They can ground me as long as they want. Sounds like heaven to me.”
“Nothing like heaven,” Ailsa said. “And that’s you sorted. Me, on the other hand?”
Jim shook his head. “She’ll be bored within a week. And begging to be allowed out or to watch TV or something. Mum’s idea of grounding us is no TV, no internet, no phone, and no going out unless we’re escorted by her.” He looked at Ailsa. “And you’re staying with me.”
She smiled. “If your parents want me.”
“I want you,” he said. “Forget the fact you have nowhere else to go. Besides, we’re both over eighteen, so we’re adults now. We can do what we want. Well, within reason, as it has to be legal.” He paused, running his fingers over the back of her hand. “And most important of all? I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“Good. So don’t give me any of this leaving-me rubbish. I want you to stay.”
Staci rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, if you’re going to get soppy and kiss her, then go find a room. Oh wait, you can’t.” She put her hands over her eyes. “Go on then. You got ten seconds before I look. Jim and Ailsa sitting in a chopper…”
Jim grinned and kissed Ailsa’s cheek. “I mean it. I want you to stay with us.”
She smiled. “I’d like that too. OK, Stace, you can look now.”
Staci peeked between her fingers. “Are you sure? I’m way too young for that kind of thing.”
Jim snorted. “Yeah, right. And what was the name of that boy band again?” He winked. “You know, the one in the poster in your room where you’d stand on tiptoes on the bed and kiss each of them good night…” He broke off laughing as she kicked him.
“Insult me all you want. I don’t care.” She grinned at him. “We’re going home…”