The Island – 1st draft******
June 1, 2000
My name is Anna Elliott. I was thirty years old when Tom and Sharon Callahan hired me to tutor their son T.J. for the summer. He was fifteen and one month into remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The Callahan’s wanted me to come with them on their extended vacation at a resort near Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean. I didn’t have to think it over for very long before I agreed to go; I had my own reasons for getting out of Chicago.
T.J. and I were flying to the resort together. His parents and younger sisters had gone down a week earlier but I had to attend a last minute meeting at the high school where I teach. T.J. wanted to go to a party at his friend Ben’s and convinced his parents to let him stay behind and fly down with me instead.
My sister Sarah drove me to the airport. She pulled up to the curb and helped me take my suitcases out of the trunk. “Are you sure you don’t want me to park and go in with you?”
“No, I’ll be fine. You and David can meet me at the gate when I get back. Bring the kids. Have them make a welcome home sign.”
“They’ll love that.”
Sarah put her hand on my arm. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“It’s too late now, I’ve accepted the job. I’m going,” I said.
“I meant leaving Chicago. Leaving John. Sarah hesitated. “Ultimatums seldom end well.”
“I told you before, it’s not an ultimatum. Why does everyone think that?”
“Never mind, just forget it. Call me when you get there.” Sarah gave me a hug. “Wear sunscreen.” I hugged her back and smiled.
“Okay. Thanks for taking me to the airport.”
“You’re welcome.” I watched Sarah drive away and then I picked up my suitcases and walked into the airport.
T.J. and his friend Ben were waiting for me at the gate. “Hi T.J.,” I said. It’s good to see you again. Are you ready to go?”
“You must be Ben,” I said to the boy sitting next to T.J. How was your party?” I asked
“Uh, it was okay,” he said.
“I’m going to check on our flight,” I said to T.J. I’ll be right back.”
As I walked away I heard Ben say, “Dude, your babysitter’s hot.”
“She’s my tutor, asshole.”
When I returned T.J. was alone. He was looking down at the ground. “Did Ben leave?” I asked.
“Yeah, his mom got tired of circling the airport. He wouldn’t let her come in with us.”
“Did you have a good time at the party?”
“It was okay.”
“Do you want to get something to eat?” I asked.
“I’m not hungry.”
When we boarded the plane, T.J. put his ear buds in and ignored me. He always answered me when I asked him a question – he was too polite not to – but he wasn’t interested in having a conversation. I didn’t take it personally.
We stayed on schedule until Frankfurt and then we were delayed for twelve hours while the airline attempted to untangle the mechanical problems and weather delays that rendered our original itinerary obsolete; T.J. slept on a row of hard plastic chairs while we waited to be re-routed. There were more delays in Sri Lanka – this time a shortage of flight crew – and by the time we arrived at Mal’e International Airport, our final destination two hours away by air taxi, I had been awake for thirty-three hours. When they said they had no reservation for us, I blinked back tears.
“But I have the confirmation number,” I said to the ticket agent as I slid the scrap of paper across the counter. “I updated our reservation before we left Sri Lanka. Two seats. T.J. Callahan and Anna Elliott. Will you please look again?”
The ticket agent checked the computer. “I am sorry; your names are not on the list. The air taxi is full. I have no more seats,” he said.
“What about the next flight. “
“There are no other flights tonight. Seaplanes do not fly after sunset.” He looked at me. The tears I had been trying to hold back threatened to run down my face. “I’ll see if the other carrier has any seats but I can’t promise anything,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said, wiping my eyes.
I bought two large bottles of water. “Do you want one?” I asked T.J.
“Well here, put it in your backpack,” I said, handing him a bottle. “You might want it later.”
We sat down on a bench and I called T.J.’s mom and told her not to expect us until morning. “There’s a chance they’ll find us a flight but I don’t think we’ll get out tonight. The seaplanes don’t fly after dark so we may have to spend the night at the airport.”
“I’m sorry Anna. You must be exhausted,” Sharon said. I should have stayed behind with you and T.J. and let Tom fly ahead with the girls.”
“It’s okay, really. We’ll be there tomorrow for sure.”
I noticed the ticket agent waving at me. He was smiling. “Sharon, listen I think we might –,” and then my cell phone dropped the call.
The ticket agent told us one of the charter pilots was able to fly us to the resort. “The passengers he was supposed to take are delayed in Sri Lanka and won’t get here until tomorrow morning.”
“That’s great,” I told him. “Thank you for finding us a flight, I really appreciate it.” I tried to call T.J.’s parents again but I couldn’t get a signal and my cell phone roamed without connecting. I put it back in my purse.
“Can I borrow your phone T.J.?” I asked.
“Sorry, it’s dead.”
“That’s okay, it probably wouldn’t get a signal either. Are you ready?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said, and grabbed his backpack.
T.J. and I boarded a mini-bus which dropped us off at the air taxi terminal. We checked in at the counter and walked outside to a seaplane bobbing on the water’s surface.
The heat was oppressive and I started sweating. The airport in Germany had been freezing and I’d changed into a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Now I wished I was wearing something cooler.
The pilot was sitting in the cockpit when we walked through the door. He smiled at us around a mouthful of cheeseburger. “Hi, I’m Mick.” He finished chewing and swallowed. “Hope you don’t mind if I finish my dinner.” He looked like he was in his late fifties and he was so big I wondered how he fit in the pilot’s seat. He was wearing cargo shorts and the largest tie dye t-shirt I had ever seen. His feet were bare. Beads of sweat dotted his upper lip and forehead. He ate the last bite of his cheeseburger and wiped his face with a napkin.
“I’m Anna and this is T.J.,” I said, reaching out to shake his hand. “Of course we don’t mind.
The plane seated ten. T.J. buckled himself into a seat and fell asleep immediately. I buckled in next to him and rubbed my eyes. Mick started the engines. I couldn’t hear him over the noise but when he turned his head to the side I saw his lips moving as he communicated with someone on the radio.
I looked over at T.J. as the seaplane lifted off. He was using his backpack for a pillow. He didn’t attend the school where I taught and I’d only met him once, when I interviewed with his parents. He had been bald and thin and pale then. He was still thin but his color was better and I smiled because his hair had grown into a dark brown crew cut. He had braces on his teeth and a small scar on his chin. I thought his eyes were blue but I wasn’t sure.
Exhausted, I closed my eyes and dozed but my body clock was off and I had never been able to sleep well on an airplane. I wanted to get to the resort, take a shower, and crawl into bed.
I hoped I’d be able to get a cell signal when we landed so I could call T.J.’s parents to pick us up. I unbuckled my seat belt and went to ask Mick how long it would be until we landed.
“Not too much longer,” he said. He motioned toward the co-pilot’s seat. “Sit down if you want.”
I sat down, buckled my seat belt, and looked out the windshield. The view was incredible. The sun was blinding but the huge expanse of water below was a swirl of mint green and turquoise blue.
Mick rubbed the center of his chest with his fist and reached for a roll of antacids. He put one in his mouth. “Heartburn. That’s what I get for eating cheeseburgers. But they just taste so much better than a damn salad, you know?” He laughed and I nodded my head in agreement.
“So, where are you two from?”
“What do you do there in Chicago?” He popped another antacid into his mouth.
“I teach ninth grade English.”
“Ah, summers off.”
“Sometimes.” I motioned toward T.J. “I’m tutoring him this summer. He had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He’s in remission now but he missed a lot of school and I’m going to try to get him caught up.
“I thought you looked too young to be his mom.”
“His parents are already at the resort. They flew down a week ago with his younger sisters.”
We were flying low and I looked down at the water. “How come I haven’t seen any islands yet? I thought there were supposed to be twelve hundred of them?” I asked. I looked over at Mick. He didn’t seem to have heard me. “Mick?”
“What? Oh, there are twelve hundred, give or take, but they’re spread out over ninety-thousand kilometers. And only two hundred of them are inhabited.” Mick took his left arm off the wheel and stretched it out in front of him.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No. My arm just aches,” he said. He was sweating and it also looked like he couldn’t get a deep breath. He rubbed his chest again.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“My chest hurts. I’ve never had heartburn this bad before.”
Mick was wearing a radio headset. “Do you want to call someone? The airport, or the resort, or somebody? If you show me how to use the radio I can call for you.”
“No, I’ll be fine once these antacids start working. Thank you though.”
For a while he seemed better. His breathing was steady but then I saw him take his right hand off the wheel and rub his left shoulder. I didn’t think it was heartburn.
T.J. woke up then. “Anna,” he said, loud enough so I could hear him over the noise of the engines. I turned around. “Are we almost there?”
I unbuckled and went back to sit beside T.J. “I don’t know how much farther it is but listen; I think Mick’s having a heart attack. He’s got chest pains and he looks awful. He’s blaming it on heartburn.
“Shit, are you serious?”
I nodded. “My dad survived a major heart attack last year so I know what to watch for. He said he didn’t want me to call for help. I think he’s scared to admit it’s not heartburn.”
“What about flying the plane?”
“I don’t know.”
T.J. and I went up front. Mick was rubbing his chest again and his eyes were closed. “Mick? Is the pain worse?” I asked. “Just tell us if it is so we can help you.”
“I’m going to put us down on the water and radio for help.” His voice was barely a whisper and we had to strain to hear him. He was gasping as he spoke each word. “Put on life jackets. They’re in the overhead compartment. Then go back to your seats and buckle in. Hurry up.” T.J. and I looked at each other in alarm. My heart started beating faster as adrenaline flowed through my body. I was scared that Mick would die and even more scared he might die while we were in the air. Telling us to put on life jackets meant he was scared about that too.
We rifled quickly through the overhead compartment. “Why do we have to put on life jackets?” T.J. asked. “The plane has floats, right?”
I didn’t tell T.J. my theory about the life jackets. “I don’t know, maybe it’s standard operating procedure. We’re landing in the middle of the ocean.” I saw a cylinder shaped container that said LIFE RAFT and several blankets. Next to them were the life jackets. “Here.” I handed a life jacket to T.J. and then put mine on. “Maybe he’s just being cautious. I’m going to try to put a life jacket on him too.” T.J. and I hurried back to Mick. He was moaning and his breath was coming in gasps again.
“Mick, here’s a life jacket.” His hands were gripped tightly on the wheel so I draped it over his head, reached around him, and fastened it. He was sweating profusely and his skin was grey. “It’s going to be okay Mick. I know CPR and T.J. can figure out the radio. We’ll get help.” He didn’t answer me and we went back to our seats.
I sat down next to T.J. and we fastened our seatbelts. I gripped the armrests of my seat and looked out the window to see how low we were. Landing was imminent. But when I looked up toward the cockpit Mick was slumped forward over the wheel. He wasn’t moving. I unbuckled my seat belt and rushed forward.
“Anna!” T.J. yelled.
When I was halfway there, Mick jerked backward in his seat, his hands still on the wheel as a massive spasm wracked his chest. The nose of the plane pulled up but it was too late. We hit the water tail first and skipped across the waves. The tip of one of the wings caught the surface and the plane cartwheeled out of control and broke apart.
I was knocked off my feet. One second I was walking and then next I was flying through the air. I heard the sound of shattering glass and felt searing pain and then I was underwater.
Seawater poured down my throat. Completely disoriented, it was only the buoyancy of my life jacket that lifted me slowly toward the surface. When my head was finally above water I took huge, gasping breaths.
T.J! Oh God, where was T.J.? I pictured him trapped in his seat, unable to get his seatbelt unbuckled.
The water was filled with debris. I looked frantically for him and screamed his name over and over and just when I thought he had most certainly drowned, he surfaced, coughing and choking.
I swam toward him even though every movement caused severe pain. I tasted blood in my mouth and my head was throbbing so hard it felt like it might explode, as if there was pressure building inside that needed to be released. When I reached T.J., I grabbed his hand and tried to tell him how happy I was that he was alive but my words wouldn’t come out right. Blood was pouring from a cut on my head faster than I could wipe it out of my eyes. Everything was hazy as I drifted in and out. T.J. looped his arm through the straps of my life jacket and yelled at me to wake up. I remembered high waves and swallowing more water and the sun going down and then I remembered nothing at all until we got to the shore of the island.
“Anna can you hear me?” I was lying on my back on the sand and when I opened my eyes I was looking up at the sun. I turned my head toward the voice and saw two images of T.J. He was leaning over me and I blinked until the two images merged into one. His face was cut in several places and his left eye was swollen shut. He had taken off his life jacket.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Some island. We’ve been here since the sun came up.”
“I don’t remember anything.”
“You wouldn’t wake up. I thought you were dead.”
“My head hurts.” I touched my forehead and winced when I felt a large bump. “Am I bleeding?”
T.J. parted my hair with his fingers. “Yes, but not bad. I think you went through the windshield. When we hit the water you just disappeared.”
I sat up and took off my life jacket. Moving made the pain in my head worse and I moaned. I closed my eyes and breathed in and out slowly until the worst of it had passed.
“How did we get here?”
“We drifted all night. We finally floated into calmer water and I saw the shore. I dragged you up on the sand.”
“Thank you for not letting go of me. I probably would have died if we’d gotten separated.” I hugged him and he awkwardly hugged me back. I knew I had embarrassed him a little.
I didn’t say anything for a minute as I looked out at the water. I thought about what could have happened to us if there hadn’t been an island. I had to force myself not to dwell on it.
“What about Mick?”
T.J. shook his head. “What was left of the plane sank fast.”
“Are you hurt?”
“I’m okay. I think I hit my head on the seat in front of me.”
I tried to stand up but I was so dizzy I fell down. T.J. helped me up and this time I stayed on my feet. My head throbbed and my vision was blurry.
I turned away from the shore and looked inland. The island was beautiful. It was just like the pictures I’d seen when I’d pulled up the resort on the computer, except there wasn’t a luxury hotel sitting on it. The beach was white, pristine. I was barefoot – I had no idea where my shoes were – and the sand felt like sugar under my feet. It wasn’t a very large island and I thought we could cover the distance across in less than ten minutes. The beach gave way to shrubs and tropical vegetation and then finally an area where trees grew close together, their leaves forming a green canopy. The sun was high in the sky and I thought it must be close to noon.
I sat back down again, facing the water. My head was pounding and I was dizzy and my whole body hurt. T.J. sat next to me. Small pieces of the wreckage had washed up on shore.
I looked at him. “They’ll be searching for us,” I said. “They have to know we didn’t make it to the resort and they’ll send a plane to find us.”
“I hope so.”
“Did you see any other land when we were in the water?”
“Was the current fast or slow?”
“It was moving pretty fast. Do you have any idea where we are?”
“I know where we’re supposed to be.” I took my finger and drew a diagram in the sand. “The islands are grouped in a chain running north to south. They’re atolls which means a coral island that surrounds a lagoon.” I pointed at one of the marks I’d made in the sand. “This is where we were headed. I don’t know how close we were when we went down and I have no idea what direction we drifted. I don’t know if we’re beyond the chain or on the outer edge of it. Most of the islands are small and they’re separated by a lot of water. Lots of them are uninhabited.”
“My mom and dad have got to be freaking out.”
“Yes.” T.J.’s parents had probably tried to call our cell phones but T.J.’s was dead and mine was probably at the bottom of the ocean. I could barely comprehend what his parents must be feeling. I prayed that we would be found before anyone thought to contact my parents and sister. And John. I wasn’t willing to process what that kind of news would do to them.
We waited all day. My face burned in the sun and T.J.’s arms and legs were turning red because he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt so we moved away from the shore and sat underneath a coconut tree. I didn’t like being away from the beach, in case a plane came, but T.J. and I had no protection from the sun. I had never been so hot in life. Sweat ran down my face and my hair was plastered to the back of my neck.
It was the rainy season and late in the afternoon, with little warning, the sky opened up and rain poured down on us. We got out from under the coconut tree, turned our faces up to the sky and opened our mouths but the raindrops did little to satisfy our growing thirst. The rain ended as abruptly as it had begun.
There were coconuts on the ground under the trees. We tried to crack them open but there wasn’t a hard enough surface to hit them against. We tried the trunk of a tree but what we needed was a large rock. T.J. found a baseball sized stone and hit the coconut repeatedly but it didn’t work
We gave up on the coconuts and sat there, not saying much.
“Where are they?” T.J. asked when it was fully dark.
“I don’t know.”
We moved back to the beach and stretched out on the sand, using our life jackets as pillows. “Are those bats?” T.J. asked, pointing at the shapes flying in the air above us. The air had filled with them as soon as it got dark.
“I think so.”
T.J. fell asleep but I couldn’t. I looked up at the sky although I knew no plane would be looking for us in the dark. My mouth was dry and my stomach was empty and my head hurt.
The middle of nowhere.
It was a phrase I’d never fully comprehended until now.
I thought about a conversation I’d had with my sister Sarah. I had asked her to meet me for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and when the waiter brought our drinks I took a sip of my margarita and said, “I accepted that tutoring job I told you about, the one with the boy who had cancer.” I scooped some salsa onto a tortilla chip and put it in my mouth.
“The one where you have to go with them on vacation?” Sarah took a drink of her margarita. “Aren’t they planning on being gone for half the summer?” she asked.
“Yes. And then I’ll continue tutoring him when we get back to Chicago.”
“Why would you want to be away from home for so long? What does John think about it?”
“John and I had the marriage conversation again.”
“Oh,” Sarah said.
I had been dating John for eight years, and living with him for the last four. Apparently he had meant it when he said he never wanted to get married.
The last time we’d talked about it, a month before Tom and Sharon Callahan hired me to tutor their son, he’d told me that even if he changed his mind about marriage someday, and he really didn’t think he would, he never wanted to have children.
Until recently I hadn’t given much thought to having kids. But then I turned thirty and suddenly friends and relatives and fellow teachers started giving birth and thrusting blanket wrapped bundles at me to hold and I realized I wanted one. I also loved my niece and nephew. Georgie was five and Gwen was two and even though Sarah seemed exhausted trying to keep up with them, they were both adorable and I loved spending time with them.
John and I were having dinner when I told him I was leaving for six weeks, that I had accepted the tutoring job with the Callahan’s. “I need to get away for a while,” I told him. “Make some decisions.” My eyes filled with tears.
“You know I love you Anna,” he said.
And that’s the thing. I knew he did.
I finished my margarita and a waiter asked if we wanted another round.
“Probably you should just keep ‘em coming,” Sarah told him. She looked back at me. “What are you going to do?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m going to go with the Callahan’s and when I get back, I’ll figure it out.”
“Are you hoping he’ll change his mind while you’re gone?”
Sarah gave me a look like she didn’t believe me.
“You know me better than that Sarah. I just need distance, literal space to figure this out. This is a good time for me to get out of town and clear my head before I make a decision.”
“You’re handling this pretty well.”
“That’s because we haven’t broken up yet. Our relationship is still in a grey area.”
“Maybe it is a good idea for you to be alone for a while. Sort things out and decide what you want for the rest of your life. And for what it’s worth, I think you can do better than John.”
“I thought you liked him.”
“I do. But lately he’s turned into a selfish ass.” Sarah sighed. “Oh, to be able to jet off to exotic locations whenever you feel like it.”
Sarah and I finished our drinks and stumbled our way to the El.
I thought that maybe just this once, my grass was a little greener. That if there was an upside to being in an eight year relationship devoid of any permanent commitment, it was having the freedom to fly to a beautiful resort if I felt like it.
Evidently, I had been wrong.
I curled up on my side, my head resting on my life jacket, and cried.
I woke as soon as the sun came up the next morning. T.J. was already awake.
“Hey.” I said as I sat up.
How’s your head?” he asked.
“Better I think.” I still had a dull headache and my face stung with yesterday’s sunburn.
“Someone will come today,” I told T.J. “Your parents probably have the coast guard searching for us by now.”
We waited under the coconut trees again. I had never been so thirsty before. I didn’t want to go any farther inland but we needed to find something to collect water in. We decided to take a look around and started walking toward the center of the island.
I had to rest often. My whole body hurt, not just my head. T.J. moved faster and he stopped frequently so I could catch up with him. I was still barefoot so I had to walk carefully. The ground was covered in small sticks and larger branches.
I hadn’t expected to see the pond. We saw it when we came to a small clearing. It was more like a large puddle and it was filled with murky still water. I was so thirsty that seeing the water was unbearable.
T.J. got excited. “Can we drink that?”
“I don’t know.”
We walked to the pond. I knelt at the water’s edge and scooped some into my hand. It was warm. I knew it was probably a bad idea but I raised my hand to my mouth and took a small drink anyway. It wasn’t saltwater and it didn’t taste very good but I immediately wanted more. T.J. knelt down beside me and scooped his own handful out of the pond. Once we started drinking neither of us could stop. We drank until our thirst was satisfied and then we rested by the edge of the pond. The mosquitoes swarmed and I slapped them away from my face.
“We should go back,” I said. Now that we knew where the pond was I felt a little better. I knew we could go without food for a while as long as we had water.
We walked back to the coconut tree and sat down. “Do you think we should try to build a signal fire?” I asked T.J. I wondered if we should have done that first. I was so convinced they would find us right away, and that we’d be sitting on the beach when they flew over that I hadn’t thought much about it.
“I was thinking about that too,” he said.
“Do you have any idea how to start a fire?”
He shrugged. “I watched a guy do it on The Discovery Channel once. He used a curved stick, kind of like a bow, to spin another stick really fast. I can try to do what he did.”
T.J. went to find some sticks and I gathered anything I could find to make a nest for an ember. The air was so humid that everything I picked up felt wet but I finally found some leaves on a flowering bush that were dry. I added some grass to the pile but I needed something else. I pulled the pockets of my jeans inside out and found a bit of lint.
T.J. returned with two sticks but they were both straight. “I couldn’t find a curved one.” He also had two chunks of wood. He sat down and took off his tennis shoes, then pulled the laces out of them. He tied the laces together to make one long string and then tied each end onto opposite ends of the stick.
“Wow, I’m impressed,” I said.
“Well I don’t know if it will work.”
“Do you have any lint in your pockets?” I asked him. He checked the pockets of his shorts and pulled some out. He handed it to me. “Thanks.” I added the lint to the nest.
T.J. made a loop in the string and threaded the other stick through it so that it was resting on a chunk of wood on the ground. He placed another chunk of wood on top of the stick with his hand, and then pulled back on the bow.
The whole thing fell apart.
He tried repeatedly to make it work. He adjusted the tension on the string, he held the sticks at different angles and he varied his speed. “Fuck! This is impossible!” He picked the whole thing up and threw it. He used the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe the sweat out of his eyes.
After he calmed down he gathered everything up, made more adjustments, and tried again. This time it worked and he found a rhythm quickly. After about thirty minutes, the notch T.J. had worn in the chunk of wood was filled with dark wood dust. Not long after that, a wisp of smoke could be seen and shortly after that, there was a lot more. Sweat was running into his eyes and I knew he was tired so I covered his left hand with mine, to hold the stick down harder, and I used my right hand to help him saw back and forth with the bow.
“Where’s the nest Anna?”
I set it down next to him and watched as he blew gently on the piece of wood that was glowing red. He used the stick to dig it out and transfer it into the nest. He picked up the nest and held it in front of his mouth and continued to blow, and suddenly, the nest burst into flames in his hands.
“Oh my God, you did it T.J., you really did it!” He had the biggest smile on his face and I knew he was proud of himself. He set the burning nest down and we carefully piled little pieces of tinder on top of it. It was growing fast and we quickly used up the firewood I’d collected. We ran to find more. We each had an armful, and were running as fast as we could back to the fire when the sky opened up and poured. In seconds, the fire turned into a soggy pile of charred wood.
We stared at what was left of it. I wanted to cry. T.J. sunk to his knees on the sand and hung his head. I sat down next to him and we both lifted our heads and tried to catch the raindrops in our mouth. When the rain ended I looked over at T.J. and said, “I guess we need a shelter.”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
It was dark by then so we stretched out next to each other on the sand, laying our heads on our life jackets. “I’m sorry T.J. You worked so hard and you did a great job. We’ll figure something out tomorrow, something with a roof on it.”
Then my stomach cramped. I ignored it and rolled onto my side. Another cramp hit me, this one more intense. I sat up and sweat broke out on my forehead. T.J. sat up too. “What’s wrong?”
“My stomach hurts.” I prayed the cramping would stop but it only got worse. Suddenly, I knew what was going to happen. “Don’t follow me,” I said. I stumbled away from the beach into the trees and barely got my jeans and underwear down before my body purged everything in it. I writhed on the ground as the cramps continued in waves one after the other. I was drenched in sweat and the pain radiated from my stomach down each leg. For a long time I could do nothing but lay there, afraid the slightest movement would cause more misery. The mosquitoes swarmed me.
Then I saw the rats.
Everywhere I looked there were pairs of glowing eyes. I thought I felt one run over my foot and I screamed. I staggered to my feet and pulled my jeans and underwear back up but the movement brought more pain and I collapsed onto the ground. I was afraid to move again and I thought I might be dying, that whatever had contaminated the pond water wasn’t something I could survive. I stayed still after that. I had no idea whether T.J. was still on the beach or somewhere in the woods but I was certain he was suffering the same fate as me. Exhausted and weak, I fell asleep.
The noise woke me. I thought it was the swarm of mosquitoes but the sun was up and most of the bugs, and the rats, were gone. I was lying on my side, with my knees pulled up to my chest. I struggled to lift my head so I could figure out where the noise was coming from.
It was the sound of a plane.
I pushed myself up on all fours and crawled toward the beach. I screamed for T.J. but my throat was dry and no sound came out. I got to my feet and stumbled toward the shore, trying with the last of my strength to raise my arms above my head and wave them back and forth. I couldn’t see the plane anymore although I could still hear it, the sound moving farther and farther away. They were looking for us. They were looking for us and they saw me. They saw me and they would turn around any minute. But they didn’t.
The sound of the plane grew fainter until I could no longer hear it. I collapsed onto the sand and cried until I hyperventilated. Exhausted, my sobs tapered off and I lay on my side, staring out at the water in a daze. I fell asleep for a while and when I woke up, T.J. was beside me. “There was a plane,” I said.
“I heard it. I couldn’t move.”
“They’ll come back.”
But they didn’t. We had done everything wrong. There was no signal fire and we hadn’t spelled out SOS or HELP on the beach because we assumed we’d be on it when a rescue plane flew over.
I cried again but I was so dehydrated I didn’t have any tears. T.J. and I didn’t talk much. We were too weak to make another fire, or build a shelter. We lay under the coconut tree all day and when it rained in the late afternoon I thought of all the water that was soaking into the sand. With the pond no longer an option, the rainwater was our only chance for survival.
We moved back down to the beach when it got dark. I couldn’t sleep. I was scared they would never come back for us and I was scared that T.J. and I would die. I dozed fitfully throughout the night and when I finally fell into a deeper sleep I dreamt a rat was chewing on my foot.
When the sun came up I struggled to lift my head off the sand. We were close to the shore and I could see more debris littering the white sand. Two seat cushions from the plane had washed up overnight. I saw something tan. I rolled toward T.J. and shook his shoulder to wake him up. His eyes were sunken and his lips were cracked and bleeding.
“What is that?” I pointed to the object but the effort required to hold my hand up was too much and I let my arm drop back onto the sand.
“Over there. That tan thing.”
“I don’t know,” he said. He struggled to lift his head up. He shielded his eyes from the sun and focused. “That’s my backpack. Anna that’s my backpack!” T.J. got up and walked to the water’s edge and grabbed it. He brought it back and I slowly sat up. And just when I remembered why he was so excited, T.J. reached in and pulled out the bottle of water I’d given him at the Male airport.
He twisted the cap off the water bottle and we took turns drinking. It was a thirty-two ounce bottle and we finished it, being careful not to drink it too fast. It wasn’t nearly enough but it wouldn’t make us sick and it would keep us going until we could figure out how to find more.
Inside T.J.’s backpack was a Chicago Cubs baseball cap and a grey sweatshirt which, even though they were wet, he put on immediately to protect his head and arms from the sun and the mosquitoes. There were two more t-shirts, a pair of shorts, underwear and socks, and his MP3 player. T.J.’s cell phone was at the bottom of the backpack. He pulled it out and flipped it open. We both knew it was dead, and the ocean water would have ruined it anyway, but I still held my breath, hoping to see the lights come on. They didn’t.
Suddenly, I realized something. “If we use a leaf for a funnel, we can collect rainwater in the empty water bottle,” I said. “And while I was collecting wood I saw a tree with something growing on it that we might be able to eat if we can reach them. We’ve got to get more water and eat something today.”
“Yes,” T.J. agreed.
T.J. and I looked up at a tree with spiny green grapefruit sized fruit. There was fruit on the ground around the tree but it was rotten and covered in bugs. “If you stand on my shoulders you might be able to reach,” he said.
T.J. was about five foot ten which was taller than me by at least five inches but he was bone thin, and scrawny, and even though I was thin, I wasn’t sure he could hold me.
He seemed to know what I was thinking. “Just try.”
I climbed onto his shoulders. He might have been skinny but he was surprisingly steady, considering how little we had eaten and how sick he’d been. He held onto my ankles and I stood up slowly. My knees were shaking. I reached up as high as I could and just when I was about to grab the fruit, I lost my balance and had to jump off T.J.’s shoulders.
I climbed up again and stretched toward the fruit. My fingertips grazed it but I couldn’t get a good grip. I decided to hit it instead, hoping I could knock it loose. The first two times I tried, it didn’t budge. My knees were shaking and I was starting to wobble. I hit the fruit one last time, as hard as I could, and it went flying. I jumped off T.J.’s shoulders and we ran to it.
T.J. picked it up. “What is it?”
I looked closer. “I think it might be breadfruit.”
“It’s a fruit that supposedly tastes a little like bread.”
We used our fingernails to peel the outer skin away. The raw breadfruit was fragrant and reminded me of guava. We put pieces in our mouth and chewed. The texture was rubbery and I didn’t think it was ripe enough but it wasn’t bad. “This doesn’t taste like bread to me,” T.J. said.
“I think it might if it was cooked.”
After we ate it I climbed back on T.J.’s shoulders again. I knocked down two more breadfruit, which we consumed immediately, and I also pulled a large leaf from the tree to use as a funnel so we could collect rainwater in the empty water bottle.
When we got back to the beach, T.J. rolled up the breadfruit leaf but it was too big to fit in the mouth of the bottle. He tore it until it was the right size and made sure there were no openings for water to escape. I hoped it would work. I was thirsty again.
When it rained we checked our leaf funnel. It worked perfectly. When the bottle had filled up all the way, T.J. drank half of it, handed it to me, and I drank the rest. We put the leaf back in and before the rain stopped, it filled up again. We drank that too.
We had a way to collect water, we had an endless supply of breadfruit, and we knew we could make fire again. But without a shelter to protect the flame, the fire would never stay lit, especially during the rainy season.
We decided to build our shelter on the beach because the mosquitoes were worse by the trees and T.J. and I were already covered in bites. And the rats were something I could hardly think about without sending myself into a full blown panic attack.
We found two Y-shaped branches that were tall enough to drive down into the sand. We placed a long branch between them and constructed a crude lean-to out of more branches. We lined the floor with palm fronds, except for a small circle where we could build our fire, and I collected stones to place in a ring around it. It would be smoky inside but that was okay, especially if it helped keep the mosquitoes away. It took us all day to build the shelter. We decided to wait until the next morning to make another fire. It rained again anyway, and the wood would have been wet. Now that we had a shelter, we could collect wood and store it inside to dry out.
It rained again and filled our water bottle twice and T.J. and I drank it all.
I stood on T.J.’s shoulders and knocked down more breadfruit for us to eat. The amount of work it took to keep us fed and hydrated was almost incomprehensible. While we were standing under the tree a perfectly ripe breadfruit fell off and landed on the ground next to us. We looked at each other. “Well, that would make things easier,” I said. We cleared the area under the tree of all rotten breadfruit so that if there was any breadfruit on the ground we would know it was ripe and not rotten.
We were exhausted and when it got dark we put the seat cushions and the life jackets in the lean-to and then T.J. and I stretched out next to each other and fell asleep.
I had to go to the bathroom when I woke up the next morning. My urine smelled strong but I was glad I was able to make pee at all.
There were three more breadfruit on the ground and we ate them for breakfast. It usually didn’t rain until the afternoon so we would have to wait a while for water.
T.J. made another fire and he made it in half the time it took him before. It was smoky in the lean-to but at least the fire wouldn’t go out when it rained.
We smelled horrible and went down to the water to bathe. We took turns, for privacy and so that one of us could watch the fire.
I went first and I stripped my clothes off and waded into the ocean. There were fish everywhere and they scattered when I got near them. The water was as warm as bathwater and didn’t cool me off but I felt a little cleaner when I came out. T.J. had given me a t-shirt from his backpack and I put that on instead of my long-sleeved t-shirt, when I got out of the water. I was much cooler in short sleeves.
When I returned to the lean-to I said, “I wish we had something to fish with. Now that we have a fire, we could cook them.” Just the thought of it made my mouth water and my stomach growl.
“We could try and spear them,” he said. “We can look for some long sticks when I get back. We’ll need to get more firewood too.”
T.J. left to bathe and came back wearing clean clothes from his backpack. He was also carrying something. “What is that?” I asked.
“It washed up on shore.” He set it down next to me and I realized immediately what it was, even before I read the words LIFE RAFT on the side. We opened the container and pulled out the life raft. There was a waterproof bag attached to it. I ripped it open and pulled out a sheet of paper that listed the contents. Raft canopy, located inside accessories case, features two roll up doors and a rain water collector in the top of the roof panel. Custom packs available including radio beacons and emergency locators.
“Where is the accessories case!” T.J. looked in the container and pulled out a nylon bag. “It might have an emergency locator in it!” We opened it and dumped everything out on the sand.
There was no emergency locator.
No radio beacon, no satellite phone, no transmitter, nothing that would lead to rescue. “I guess they figured the custom pack was an unnecessary upgrade,” I said. I was getting so used to being disappointed that I didn’t even cry this time. T.J. just shook his head.
We examined the contents of the accessories case. There was a Swiss army knife, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a tarp, a blanket, and two collapsible sixty-four ounce plastic containers. That raised our spirits a little. I opened the first aid kit. It contained acetaminophen, antibiotic ointment, band aids, alcohol wipes, antihistamine, and Imodium.
We inflated the life raft (mention CO2 thing) and attached the canopy and rain water collector. The life raft was like a big air mattress, and the roll down doors on the canopy would keep the bugs out. We put it next to the lean-to so we could sleep in it.
We put more wood on the fire and walked to the coconut tree. The first thing we did was use the knife to cut the husk off a coconut and split it open. We caught the water that spilled out of it in one of the plastic containers. We drank it and shared the meat. I was so hungry I thought I could eat every coconut on the tree but after we ate three more I couldn’t believe how full I was. In the late afternoon, when it rained, T.J. and I were stunned at how much water we had. We had set out the two plastic containers and they were full. So were the water collector and water bottle, all the empty coconut shells, and the container that held the life raft. I was amazed by how much our situation had improved. We drank half of all the water we collected and within an hour we both had to pee. We celebrated by eating another coconut. “I like coconut better than breadfruit,” I said.
“Me too. Although now that we have a fire, maybe we can roast it and see if it tastes better.”
We gathered more firewood and found sturdy sticks that might work for spearing fish. T.J. also used the knife to carve five tally marks onto the trunk of a tree so we could keep track of how many days it had been since the crash. We spent the rest of the day collecting breadfruit, coconuts, and firewood which we brought back to the lean-to. We threw the tarp over the top of the lean-to for added protection from the rain.
That night, we built up the fire as high as we could and crawled into the life raft. We spread the blanket out and used the seat cushions for our pillows. It was luxuriously comfortable compared to sleeping on the sand. The bugs weren’t biting us and I felt safe. I fell asleep but in the middle of the night I woke up and checked the fire. It had almost gone out and I realized that we would not be able to sleep through the night without putting wood on it. T.J. woke up when I crawled back into the life raft. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing. I just put more wood on the fire. Go back to sleep.”
I rolled onto my side and slept until the sun came up.
When we got up, T.J. and I built up the fire and drank water we had collected the day before and stored in the lean-to. It was hot but we didn’t care. I roasted some of the breadfruit on a flat rock I put near the fire. It was better that way but it still didn’t taste like bread to either of us. My head had stopped hurting and I didn’t feel as stiff. T.J.’s eye was no longer swollen shut.
We collected more rainwater and firewood and we were so busy that neither of us talked about rescue or when we thought there would be another plane. In some ways that was good, and it kept my mind off of things but it also made me feel that we had given up on being rescued, at least in the short term. That by obtaining fire, water, food, and shelter we were somehow sending a signal to the universe that we were doing just fine on our own. I still scanned the sky frequently.
T.J. and I went down to the water with two long sticks. T.J. used the knife to sharpen the ends and we tried unsuccessfully for over an hour to spear fish. They were simply too fast. They scattered when we waded toward them. There was an outcropping of reef that was over deeper water but without a fishing pole, there was no way to catch a fish by the more traditional method.
I had to go to the bathroom again so I left T.J. with his spear and walked into the woods.
When I squatted I realized I needed to do more than just pee. I wiped with leaves and was relieved when it was over. I figured it couldn’t get much worse than going number two in the forest without toilet paper.
Then I got my period.
I should have remembered it was coming but between the plane crash and trying not to die of dehydration I forgot. I realized my period had arrived when I went to the woods later that afternoon to pee, after T.J. had given up on spear fishing and we finished eating coconuts for lunch. Once I made the unwelcome discovery (it wasn’t totally unexpected since my birth control pills had been in my purse and stopping them probably messed up my cycle a little) were at the bottom of the ocean ) I pulled my underwear and jeans back up and returned to the lean-to. T.J. was out collecting firewood so I didn’t have to explain why I needed my other shirt. I took it into the woods and tore it into pieces. I rolled one of them up and shoved it in my underwear. If we weren’t rescued by next month I was going to run out of fabric.
Apparently there were worse things than pooping in the forest.
When I woke up the next morning the inside of my mouth tasted like something had died in it. I didn’t even want to breathe near T.J. I’m sure he would have forgiven me if I had, the same way I’d have forgiven him; it wasn’t like either of us could help it. I rinsed my mouth out with water several times a day because now that we had so many ways to collect it, we had plenty.
After breakfast, T.J. and I walked into the forest to collect more firewood, something we spent a lot of time doing.
T.J. was up ahead of me and he turned around and yelled, “Anna come here, quick!”
When I caught up to him he was standing in front of an open door which led into a shack made out of wood. The walls were uneven and part of the ceiling had caved in. “What the hell is this?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” T.J. and I walked through the doorway. (NEED MORE DESCRIPTION – MAKE SHACK LARGE AND STURDY SO THEY CAN USE THE WOOD LATER)The shack was one big room.
We looked around. There was a rusty saw and a pile of rusty nails, a hammer, and, inexplicably, a ukulele. “That’s random,” I said. There was a pile of clothes in the corner. T.J. picked up pair of jeans, Levi’s, that were falling apart from age and island humidity. There was a cotton shirt, also falling apart, and a pair of shoes. There wasn’t much else in the shack.
“Do you think someone lived here?” T.J. asked.
“You mean willingly? On purpose? I don’t know. Whoever lived here hasn’t been home for a very long time.” (WRITE PART WHERE ANNA STEPS ON THE GLASSES – GOOD TIME TO REMIND READERS SHE STILL DOESN’T HAVE SHOES)
T.J. picked up the saw, hammer, nails, and ukulele and brought them back to the beach with us. He put everything in the lean-to. I picked up the ukulele and plucked at the strings. “Here’s our fishing line,” I said to T.J. “Now we need something to use for a hook.” I was grateful we had water, and the coconuts and breadfruit kept us from starving, but fish would be a luxury I couldn’t comprehend.
He nodded. “Was there anything in the first-aid kit? Like a needle or a safety pin?”
“We’ll have to figure out something.”
T.J. went to collect coconuts and I went down to the water to take a bath. I looked forward to stripping off my clothes and submerging myself in the ocean. Even though we didn’t have any soap, I felt cleaner. The sunburn on my arms, hands, and feet had turned into a dark tan. My hair, which hung down past my shoulder blades was a rat’s nest of tangles and there wasn’t much I could do with it. I finger combed it when I got out of the water but I really needed a brush and I wished I had a ponytail holder to get the hair off my neck.
When I walked up to the lean-to T.J. was cracking coconuts. “Your turn,” I said.
T.J. and I sat near the water’s edge as it got dark that night. The waves were crashing on the reef and the bats were silhouetted against the light of a full moon. The sky was full of them. I swatted at the mosquitoes that were biting my bare arms. “You would think all the bats would help cut down on the mosquito population,” I said.
“I’m surprised you don’t have your long sleeved shirt on. Did you decide being cooler was worth a few bites?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“I’ve been thinking about a fishing hook,” T.J. said. “I wonder if we can bend one of those nails, maybe heat it up in the fire first, and use it.”
“That might work,” I said. “Can you imagine if we had fish to eat?”
“No. I don’t even like fish but I can’t stop thinking about all of them swimming around right out there.” He pointed toward the water.
“I know. When I was taking a bath they were everywhere. The lagoon is so clear.”
We sat in silence for a while. “Have we been here a week ?” T.J. asked.
“Do you think they’re still searching for us?”
I turned toward T.J. and shook my head.
“They think we’re dead, don’t they?”
“Probably, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong.”
“So what, we just wait for a plane to randomly fly overhead?”
“I guess so.” I remembered something then. “You’re in remission, right?
“When do you go back to the doctor for your next check-up?”
“How are you feeling?”
“I feel fine.” We both laughed. “I mean, other than I really need a shower and to brush my teeth and I’m hungry all the time and I’d like to eat something besides coconuts and breadfruit. As far as the cancer goes, I’m fine. I feel so much better than I did.”
“How long were you sick?”
“Over a year. The first treatment didn’t really work.”
“They’ll find us before August.” I swatted at a mosquito that was biting my arm. “I can’t stop thinking about our families and what they must be going through. It’s tearing me up inside.”
“Me too.” T.J. turned toward me and said, “I wasn’t even talking to my parents before we came here.”
“I was pissed. The only reason my parents planned this is because our whole family went to shit when I got sick. My mom felt bad because she ignored Alexis and Grace because she was always at the hospital with me and she was pissed at my dad because he was always at work and everybody was just pissed all the time. This trip was supposed to be for us all to re-connect with each other. Those were my mom’s words, not mine. I wanted to stay in Chicago and hang out with my friends all summer. And if being gone for so long wasn’t bad enough, they told me you were coming and I had to start making up all the school work I’d missed. No offense Anna.”
“None taken. I don’t know many students who would want to spend the summer doing homework.”
The only reason they let me stay behind to go to Ben’s party was because they knew how mad I was. When they first told me about the trip I told them I hoped our plane crashed.”
“Well then clearly this predicament we’re in is all your fault. Way to go,” I said, patting him on the shoulder.
“Yeah. What was I thinking?”
I got up. “I’m going to bed.”
“Okay. I’ll put wood on the fire before I come in.”
I had just turned to walk away when I saw something swoop down out of the corner of my eye. I felt the impact as it slammed into my head and when I realized what it was, I panicked and started screaming, my hands raking through my hair to get the bat out. T.J. knocked my hands out of the way and tried to pull it out. He stopped abruptly and ran toward the lean to while I continued shaking my head back and forth to try and dislodge the bat. When he ran back he pushed me down onto the sand until my head was flat on the ground and he drove the blade of the Swiss army knife through the bat’s body. It stopped moving immediately.
“Just lie still, I’m going to get it out of your hair.”
“Is it dead?”
I didn’t move. My heart was racing and I wanted to freak out but I forced myself to breathe in and out slowly while T.J. untangled the bat from my hair.
We looked at the bat but there was only a sliver of moon and we couldn’t see it very well. T.J. went back to the lean-to for the flashlight and he shined it on the bat.
It was gross. Its wings were black and it had a surprisingly wide wingspan. The body was light brown. T.J. poked at its mouth with the knife and we saw the jagged teeth.
I became aware of the pain then. My hand was throbbing and I asked T.J. for the flashlight. I shined it on my palm and saw the blood. “I thought I felt it bite me.”
“Let’s get the first aid kit.”
We walked back and sat by the fire. I opened the first aid kit and took out the alcohol wipes, antibiotic cream, and band-aids. I cleaned the bite, used the cream, and put a band aid on my hand. I knew we were both wondering the same thing. Was the bat carrying rabies? It didn’t look sick but that might not mean anything.
“Can I wear your baseball cap at night?”
“Yes, of course. It’ll be okay Anna.”
“Maybe. Or maybe not.” But one of those, I thought. “I’m going to go to bed.”
“Me too. I’m going to put some more wood on the fire first.”
“Okay.” I crawled into the life raft and turned on my side. I was still awake when T.J. came to bed and long after I heard his breathing deepen, and I knew he was asleep, I thought of the bat and the bite and what might be incubating inside me.
T.J. kept carving tally marks on the trunk of the tree and we passed the time collecting firewood, breadfruit, coconuts, and water. We had enough food to survive but we were always hungry and we had yet to spear a fish.
I started sleeping more. T.J. wanted me to explore the island with him but I didn’t have shoes and I was afraid of scraping the bottoms of my feet. He made a checkerboard in the sand and collected small rocks for us to use as checkers but I only played a few games with him before I told him I was going to lie down. I spent the hottest part of the day in the life raft. I rolled up the bug thingies and the breeze coming from the ocean was cool. I scanned the sky constantly for planes and I thought endlessly of my parents, and Sarah and John. I no longer sat on the beach with T.J. at night, preferring to remain close to the fire and the lean-to. My hand was healing well and I tried not to think about the bat anymore.
I cried when T.J. wasn’t around and I was ashamed of myself. We didn’t talk very much and I spent even more time asleep.
I was sitting in the lean-to staring at the fire one afternoon when I heard T.J. calling my name. I looked out and saw him running toward me, dragging something behind him.
It was one of my suitcases.
I left the lean-to and met him halfway. “Anna, Anna look! Is it yours?”
“Yes!” Oh God, please let it be the right one. I had packed two suitcases and I knew exactly what was in each of them.
T.J. and I knelt on the sand and I grabbed the zipper and pulled. I opened the lid of the suitcase and looked in. Oh thank God.
Everything was wet and I pushed it aside to find what I was looking for. I saw the ziploc bag, opened it, and dumped everything on the sand. I picked through the jewelry and held one of my chandelier earrings up for T.J. to see. He looked at the curved wire the earring hung on and he smiled at me. “That will make an excellent fish hook Anna.” I smiled back at him. I loved to wear chandelier earrings when I put my hair up. I had packed five pairs.
I couldn’t believe how much that suitcase changed my attitude. For one thing, it was also the suitcase that had all my toiletries. It wasn’t like I was going to be able to go to Target while I was at the resort so I’d packed accordingly. I had my own toothbrush now and I’d packed two tubes of regular toothpaste, plus a tube of tooth-whitening Crest I liked to use when I brushed my teeth before bed. I had two bars of soap, two bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, and two razors.
I had three deodorants, two solids and one gel, baby oil for taking off my makeup, cherry chap stick – my all time favorite – and two boxes of tampons (thank you Jesus). My MP3 player, a datebook, and a pen were also inside one of the zippered compartments. My comb and brush and hair clips and ponytail holders were also in the suitcase.
I had fingernail clippers, tweezers, q-tips, and Kleenex (no more leaves when we went to the bathroom, at least until it ran out). I also had a bottle of Woolite for hand-washing my swimsuits. I’d need to use it on all my clothes because they were soaking wet and smelled like ocean water and mildew. There were two pairs of sunglasses, a pair with big black frames and a pair of Ray Ban aviators.
This was the suitcase that I’d packed all my underwear and bras, and swimsuits in. It also had my pajamas – mostly cotton lounge pants, shorts, and tank tops – and my workout clothes. My tennis shoes were in it and so were several pairs of socks. I had two extra-large t-shirts I used as nightgowns. My blue REO Speedwagon one and my grey Nike one with the red swoosh that said Just Do It on the front. Even though T.J. didn’t need an extra large, I thought he could still wear them.
T.J. watched me as I dug through the suitcase and spread everything out on the sand. I turned to him and said, “All of this is yours too T.J. You can use anything of mine that you want.”
“I just want you to stop sleeping so much and start talking to me again.”
“I will. I’m sorry. I just can’t believe this is my life right now. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen.” I struggled not to cry. But if a fifteen-year-old boy who had already survived cancer could manage not to sink into depression, I sure as hell could try a little harder to stay upbeat as well. I’m sure T.J. wished I could snap the fuck out of the black hole I’d fallen into.
“Do you want to take your bath first?” I asked him.
“No, you go ahead. I’m going to see if I can make us a fishing pole. I’ll go when you get back.”
“Okay.” Before I went down to the shore to bathe, I brushed my teeth with my toothbrush, using the water we kept in the lean-to.
When I got to the shore, I stripped off my clothes without hesitation. I was surprised at how quickly I’d gotten used to being completely naked on the beach. I knew T.J. couldn’t see me and I’d have been overjoyed to be spotted by a plane. I’d have no trouble being naked in front of strangers if it meant we were getting off the island.
I walked into the water and dunked my head under. I came back out of the water to put the shampoo on because I was afraid I would drop the bottle in the lagoon and lose it. Even though the water was crystal clear, I was paranoid that the current would wash it away. My hair was so filthy I lathered and rinsed it three times and then put the conditioner on. I stood on the beach and soaped myself from head to toe, rinsed, and soaped myself again. I shaved my legs and underarms. I walked into the water a final time to rinse and I was so happy I floated on my back for a while, feeling clean, and like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
When I got out of the water I put on my black two-piece swimsuit. It wasn’t skimpy – I couldn’t imagine sitting around with the Callahan’s in a string bikini – but it felt so much better than the jeans I’d been wearing. I used one of my deodorants and then sat on the sand to comb my hair out. When I had it un-tangled I put it up in a twist and secured it with my hair clip. I put on the black sunglasses and decided T.J. should have the Ray Ban’s. They would look good on him.
Before leaving the shore, I washed the clothes I’d been wearing with the woolite. I could hang them over the lean-to to dry.
T.J. did a double take when he saw me walk up. He was standing next to the lean-to and I went up to him and said, “Smell me.”
He leaned in and inhaled. “The mosquitoes are going to love you.” I thought he might also have checked out my boobs but I was so happy to be clean I didn’t even care.
“When I get back from cleaning up I want to try out this fishing pole. I twisted the hooks from two of your earrings together because I didn’t think it would be strong enough otherwise. I want to see if it works.” He had tied the strings of the ukulele together and then tied the end to a thick branch. I could see the earring hook hanging off the other end.
“Okay. I left everything down there by the shore. Help yourself. You are going to feel incredible.”
When T.J. came back he looked clean and he smelled as good as I did. I gave him the Ray Ban’s. “Hey thanks, these are cool.”
“Do you feel good?” I asked him.
“Yes, I reeked. This is much better.”
“I know. I feel the same way.” T.J. had brought everything back from the shore with him and I carefully organized it in the lean-to. I put the clothes from my suitcase in a pile to wash when we were done fishing and I put all the toiletries back in the suitcase and closed it up. It rained right after I got everything stowed away so T.J. and I drank some fresh water and ate some coconuts. I hoped we’d be having fish for dinner.
“What are we going to use for bait?” I asked.
“Worms.” We dug in the ground under the trees. There were lots of worms in the dirt and T.J. picked them up and put them in his hand. I carried the fishing pole and we walked to where there was an outcropping of reef that extended over deeper water. T.J. threw out the line and we waited.
He had a bite in less than thirty seconds but because he didn’t have a reel he had to yank back on the pole. When he raised it all the way up we cheered when we saw the fish hanging off the end. I went back to the lean-to and got the cylinder container the life raft had come in. We filled it with sea water and T.J. caught seven more fish in less than a half hour.
We took the fish back to the lean-to and while T.J. went to get more wood for the fire, I cleaned the fish with the Swiss army knife. I tried to put the image of the blade being in the bat out of my mind. We had no choice but to use it.
T.J. saw me cleaning the fish when he came back. “Where’d you learn to do that?”
“My dad. He used to take Sarah and me fishing with him all the time. We would have rather gone to the mall but we still had a good time. I always helped him clean whatever we caught.” My dad always wore a khaki bucket hat that had fishing lures on it and Sarah and I used to tease him about it. I missed my mom and dad more than anything and it made me sad to think of what they were going through.
We cooked the fish on the same flat rock we cooked breadfruit on. We ate it with our hands as soon as it was cooked through and then put another one on the rock. It was wonderful. I had no idea what kind of fish we were eating and I didn’t care.
“Do you like it?” I asked T.J.
“Yeah,” he said, chewing a mouthful. It’s good. I didn’t think I liked fish. Maybe I was wrong or maybe I’m just so hungry.”
We ate all the fish and then we sat side by side, as content as two people who were stranded on an island could be. I was continuously amazed by our good fortune. Just when we hit rock bottom, something would happen to pick us back up. I was still worried about the bat bite but there was nothing I could do but wait it out.
T.J. and I sat around the fire after dinner. I reached over and opened up my suitcase. I pulled out my datebook because it had a five year calendar in the front. “How many days have we been here?” I asked T.J. He walked over to the tree and counted the tally marks. “Twenty-three.” I used the pen to mark the dates on the calendar. At least we wouldn’t have to carve tally marks on a tree anymore. “When is your birthday?” I asked T.J.
“October fifteenth. When’s yours?”
T.J. studied my face for a minute. “How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know. Twenty-four?”
“I know.” I put the calendar and pen away. “We’ll be off this island way before you turn sixteen.”
I remembered something then. I reached back into my suitcase and pulled out my MP3 player. I was sure it was ruined but it had been inside a plastic lined zippered compartment so I turned it on to see what would happen.
“T.J. it works.” I was so happy. I would choose music over T.V. and day and to be able to listen to my favorite songs was like the cherry on top of an already really great day.
“No way, you’re kidding,” he said. He scooted over next to me and we each put one ear bud in our ears.
T.J. smiled at me when he heard the first song. It was “Stone in Love”. “You like rock music?”
I didn’t want to run down the charge so I turned off the MP3 before I answered him. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. I would have guessed Mariah Carey or Celine Dion or somebody like that. I wasn’t expecting Journey.”
T.J. laughed at me. “You just don’t seem like a rocker.”
I reached into my suitcase and showed T.J. what I’d pulled out. “Did you not see my REO Speedwagon t-shirt?”
“I did. I want to wear it. But one t-shirt doesn’t tell me what kind of music you like.”
“No, I suppose it doesn’t. I like all rock music but I also like eighties. I’m still undecided about the nineties though. What about you?”
“Same as you, mostly rock. My favorite band is Rush.”
“I like them too.”
“How much of a charge is on your MP3?”
“About half. Do you want to listen to one more song and then I’ll turn it off?”
“Okay, you can choose the song.” I handed it to T.J.
I smiled when I heard the opening notes of Lynyrd Skynyrds’s “Sweet Home Alabama”. I smiled at T.J. and he smiled at me and at that moment, things didn’t seem quite so bad.
I slept really well, at least as well as possible for me. T.J. was already gone when I woke up. I put on blue nylon running shorts and a tank top. It was wonderful not having to wear my jeans anymore.
When I came out of the lean-to, T.J. was walking up with a plastic container of fish. “Good morning,” I said.
“Good morning. I caught breakfast.” He handed me the fish.
“I see that. I’ll get them cleaned.” T.J. had already built up the fire. After our breakfast of fish and coconuts, T.J. wanted to explore more of the island. Now that I had tennis shoes, I could walk everywhere without worrying about hurting the soles of my feet. T.J. was wearing the same t-shirt and shorts he had on yesterday so I told him I wanted to wash all of our dirty clothes first so I could lay them out to dry before it rained.
I gathered up the clothes and went down to the water. I washed and rinsed everything and when I got back to the lean-to, I laid the clothes out on the sand. Everything looked cleaner and certainly smelled better.
We walked around the island for a while but we didn’t see anything interesting. We gathered all the firewood we could hold on the way back and deposited it on our woodpile.
“Do you want to go swimming?” T.J. asked.
“Sure.” I was hot from walking around the interior of the island, where the ocean breeze didn’t reach. Now that I had something to wear, going swimming sounded like a great idea. I grabbed one of the suits I’d just washed – a yellow bikini – and went into the lean-to to change. It was so small it was hard to move around inside but I wasn’t really in a position to be picky about where I got dressed. I was still grateful I had something to change into.
T.J. was already swimming when I got to the water’s edge. I swam out to meet him. “This feels so good,” I said. “I’ll have to be careful not to get burned though. I’m not as covered up as I was.” T.J. was swimming in just a pair of shorts and his chest and arms were white. He’d have to be careful too.
The lagoon was perfect for swimming. The water was calm and clear. If we had fins and masks it would have been perfect for snorkeling.
We swam side by side for a while and then moved into shallower water where we could touch the sandy ocean floor. Now that we had fish to eat, and I finally felt like I had enough food in my stomach, I thought about swimming every day for exercise. I certainly didn’t need to work out, and I’d have to be careful not to burn too many calories, but exercise was something I’d always done not only to stay in shape but to clear my head and keep my mood in check. I needed that more than ever now.
We got out of the water and sat on the sand for a few minutes. It was a beautiful island, something I hadn’t been paying much attention to. “Was there a reason your parents wanted to vacation down here?” I asked T.J.
“For the diving. My dad and I are both certified.”
“Really? That’s great. You must really like to dive.”
He shrugged. “Yeah. But I still didn’t want to come here and dive for six weeks. I mean the resort. Not here.” He looked around. “Wherever this place is.
“I would have been happy going back to the Bahamas for a week. We didn’t have to go halfway around the world.”
“Maybe they just wanted to do something special for you. They were probably trying to make you happy.”
“If they wanted to make me happy they should have listened when I told them I didn’t want to go anywhere.” I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was still angry about it.
“I’m sorry they didn’t listen.” It was something I often heard my students complain about. They just wanted their parents to listen to them.
“Are you ready for lunch?” I asked.
“Sure.” T.J. and I walked back to the lean-to. I built up the fire and collected some wood while T.J. caught more fish. I cleaned them and after we ate, I gathered up the clothes that were spread out on the sand. They were mostly dry and I shook the sand from them and put them in the lean-to. We played a few games of checkers and then we took a nap. Later that night, when we sat by the fire, I took out my datebook. “How many days has it been since you were bitten?” T.J. asked.
“Nine, I think.”
“Are you still worried about it?”
“A little. I’m getting less worried though. I think if I get past the two week mark I’m probably in the clear.”
“Let me see your hand.”
I held out my palm to T.J. There was no sign of the bite.
“It looks pretty good,” he said.
We listened to another song on my MP3 player. I picked it this time. “Time For Me to Fly” by REO Speedwagon, one of my favorites. It turned out that T.J. liked it too.
We got into the habit of listening to a song before we went to bed. We took turns choosing but after only four nights, in the middle of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” my MP3 player died and that was the end of music for T.J. and me.
When I walked up behind T.J. he was elbow deep in my suitcase. I watched him pull out a pair of sheer pink underwear, look at them, put them back in the suitcase and then select a bright orange pair of boy shorts.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m trying to find your REO Speedwagon t-shirt.”
“Really? Because it looks like you’re checking out all my underwear.”
T.J. put the boy shorts back and examined a black lace thong. He turned to me and held it up. “This looks really uncomfortable.” Next he pulled out a red teddy. “This is hot. Why did you pack this?”
“Give me that.” I grabbed the teddy and shoved it back in my suitcase.
T.J. laughed. “So can I wear the t-shirt? Is it clean? “
“If by clean you mean have I rinsed it out in the ocean? Then yes. I hung it over there on the tree to dry. You can wear it.”
“You’re welcome. And leave my underwear alone.”
T.J. came running down to the water where I was washing clothes. “Anna, you’ve got to see what I found!”
“A satellite phone?” I joked.
“No, come on. Put your tennis shoes on.” I followed him back to the lean-to and put on shoes and socks.
“What did you find?” I asked as I followed him.
“A cave. I went to grab a pile of sticks and when I pulled them away, I saw the opening. I want to see what’s in it.”
The cave was only about two minutes away from the beach. When we reached it I looked at the entrance and knew there was no way I was going inside.
T.J. had to crawl to fit through. “It’s narrower than I thought,” he yelled out to me. “I had to lie on the ground and army crawl on my stomach for a while. It’s a little bigger once you get all the way in though. Come on.”
“No way!” I yelled back. “I am never going in that cave.” My heart was beating faster and I was sweating just thinking about it.
“I’m feeling around,” T.J. said. I can’t see anything.”
“Why would you do that? What if there’s a snake or a rat or something worse?”
“I don’t think there’s anything in here but rocks and sticks. I can’t tell though.”
“If the sticks are dry bring them out. We can add them to the woodpile.”
But it wasn’t rocks and sticks. When T.J. crawled out of the cave and stood up, he was holding something that looked like a shin bone in one hand and something that was definitely a skull in the other. T.J. dropped them and said, “Holy shit!”
“Oh my God!” I said. “I don’t know who that is but it did not end well for them.”
“Do you think it’s the person who built the shack?” T.J. asked.
“That would be my guess.”
We walked back to the shelter and made a torch out of a piece of driftwood. It wouldn’t stay lit for long so T.J. and I hurried back to the cave. He took the torch, got down on his hands and knees and crawled in holding the torch in front of him.
“Don’t burn yourself,” I called after him.
“Are you in?”
“What do you see?”
“It’s definitely a skeleton. But there’s nothing else in there.” T.J. crawled out and handed me the torch. “I’m going to put the bones back in the cave with the rest of it.”
“Good idea,” I said.
“That was wild,” I said when we got back to the lean-to.
“I know,” T.J. said. “How long does it take a body to become a skeleton?”
“In this humidity? Probably not long.”
“I definitely think it’s the guy from the shack.”
“You’re probably right. Maybe he should have brought a cell phone and not a ukulele.”
“You’re still stuck on the ukulele thing, aren’t you?”
“Well it’s bizarre. But if Bones hadn’t brought it, we’d still only be eating coconuts and breadfruit so maybe I should drop it.”
“It sounds better than ‘guy from the shack.’”
“Works for me.”
August came and went and T.J. missed the follow up appointment with his oncologist. We had just finished swimming and were sitting on the beach when I asked him how he was feeling and if there were any symptoms we should be watching for.
“I feel good. Last time it started kind of like the flu. I had a fever and I started sweating at night. Then the doctor found a lump on my neck from a swollen lymph node. I had some tests after that, X-rays and a CAT scan and then a biopsy. Then they told me I had stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”
“Did you start chemo right away?”
He nodded. “Yes. And I had to have radiation too. I missed almost the whole year of school because my immune system was shot and I couldn’t be around a bunch of people.” No wonder he had missed his friends.
“I’m sorry T.J. That had to be a horrible experience.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s over. At least I hope it’s over.” He started laughing. Do you want to know one of the worst things about the whole experience? It’s really embarrassing?”
“Sure.” Anything to lighten the mood a little.
He turned toward me. “I’m sterile.”
Well that did not lighten the mood at all. “You are?
“Wait, how is that embarrassing?”
“That’s not the embarrassing part. I had no idea the chemo and radiation would affect my swimmers but my mom did.”
“Oh God. I think I might know where you’re going with this story now.”
“Yeah. She sat me down at the kitchen table and started saying things like sperm and grandchildren and a bunch of other shit I tuned out. Then she told me she was driving me to the hospital to give a sample and she handed me one of my dad’s Playboy magazines – which I had already looked at, by the way – and said she’d wait until I was done. Oh, and she also asked me if I knew what I was supposed to. I’m fifteen! I’m a fucking expert at it.”
“Oh my God I’m dying here,” I said. I was laughing so hard I was crying. T.J. was cracking up too. I guess he did lighten the mood after all.
“Apparently I can have all the kids I want someday and I don’t have to worry about accidentally getting anyone pregnant.”
”It’s win-win really,” I agreed. “But on a more serious note, tell me if you notice any symptoms, okay?”
“I will. Just don’t ask me if I feel okay all the time. My mom did and it drove me nuts.”
“I won’t. But I will worry about it a little.”
We walked back to the lean-to after that and from then on, whenever I thought of that story it always brought a smile to my face.
“Good morning T.J. And happy birthday.” I had looked at the calendar when I woke up and noticed the date.
“Sixteen. You can get your driver’s license if we ever get off this island.”
He looked bummed out and I thought maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned driving. “We’ll celebrate your birthday when we’re rescued,” I said quickly. “I don’t care if it’s December or March or whenever. I’ll buy you a great gift.”
“Will you buy me beer?”
“What? No! Why would I buy you beer?”
“Why not? Ben would be so jealous if I told him you’d buy me beer.”
“You’re going to have quite a story to tell Ben when you get off this island.”
“And if you buy me beer, I can tell it to him while we’re drinking it.” T.J. smiled at me. “He thinks you’re hot, by the way.”
“I know, I heard him at the airport.”
“You did? He’s kind of a douche sometimes.”
“Do you and your friends drink a lot?” This wasn’t exactly shocking news to me considering I worked with fifteen-year-olds on a daily basis and I often overheard them talking about their weekends but still I wondered.
“Not really. I’ve only been drunk a few times. I puked once though which sucked. Do you drink?”
“Yes.” John and I both liked wine and I often had cocktails with my girlfriends and Sarah.
“Do you ever get stoned?”
“What! Why are you asking me these things?” I was pretty open with my students, and they asked me about everything, but I never would have allowed them to ask me such personal questions. I wasn’t sure why I let T.J. get away with it. Maybe it was because I was bored or maybe it was because I just wasn’t that concerned with appropriate topics between a teacher and student given our situation.
“I don’t know. I was just wondering. Sometimes Ben and I get stoned.”
“Yeah. So, do you?”
“I did in college. And once last year when my best friend Stacy and I went to Jamaica.” I put my hands over my face. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this. Please do not let your parents know that the tutor they hired told you she smoked pot. I will kick your ass.”
“Can I tell them you bought me beer?” He laughed out loud.
“Very funny. The answer is still no.”
“Okay fine. But I want a nice present.”
In November, T.J. and I noticed that it wasn’t raining as much. Sometimes a day would pass before any fell and there were times we were thirsty again. I had known the rainy season would end but I didn’t know if that meant it would only rain a little or not at all. We supplemented our dwindling natural resource with plenty of coconut water but still I worried.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do if it stops raining,” I said to him one night when we had gone two days without a single drop. Luckily we were able to store some but it got hot fast and I was afraid to drink it after two days. I thought the reason the water in the pond had made us so sick was because bacteria had probably grown in it due to the heat and the fact that the water was stagnant. “We might be able to dig for fresh water but I’m kind of scared to go down that road again. I haven’t forgotten what happened last time.”
“Me neither. I thought I was going to crap out my spleen.”
I laughed. “Oh God, me too. That was a horrible experience.”
We decided to wait it out. Hopefully we’d have enough rain, otherwise we’d need to come up with plan B. We were still eating pretty well – we always had enough – but there were days when I could hardly choke down one more fish, or coconut, or breadfruit. We were both a little underweight since we hadn’t been able to gain back what we’d lost when we first came to the island but we were doing okay. T.J. actually seemed to be growing a little.
We were both restless. One of the hardest things for us to cope with was the boredom. Collecting firewood, fishing, gathering coconuts and breadfruit all took time but we still had too much left over. We swam every day and we still walked around the island but that was about it.
We passed a lot of time by talking. I realized I knew almost as much about T.J. as I did my friends and my sister. He told me about his sisters and his parents and his friends. I knew he liked Coke and not Pepsi (me too), that his favorite color was blue, baseball was his favorite sport, he hated to read, his favorite dessert was chocolate cream pie, and he liked to watch scary movies.
I told him about my parents, how my dad was a mechanical engineer and my mom was also a teacher. I talked about Sarah and my friends and I told him about John although not the current state of our relationship. He knew that I was horribly claustrophobic, had run two marathons, liked opening my Christmas presents on Christmas Eve because I couldn’t wait one more day to see what I got, never kept ice cream in the house because I’d eat it all in one sitting and loved going to movies. We both liked McDonald’s French fries, and falling asleep with the T.V. on.
We played some version of the question and answer game almost every day, usually after we got done swimming and were sitting on the beach.
“Stones or Beatles?” I asked T.J.
“That’s easy. Stones.”
“Live or studio recordings?”
“Studio. I hate it when they release a live version and I can’t sing along because they changed all the arrangements.”
“Ginger or MaryAnn?”
“Who are they?”
“You don’t know who Ginger and MaryAnn are?”
“Are you kidding me?”
T.J. looked confused.
“Gilligan is an American icon!”
“I’ve heard of the show but I’ve never watched it.”
“Well it’s about seven castaways who were shipwrecked and live on a deserted island. It used to be on during prime time but by the time I started watching it was already in syndication. I think they still show re-runs on Nick at Nite. Anyway, there’s the skipper and Gilligan, the professor, the Howell’s, and Ginger and MaryAnn. Every episode they almost get rescued but then Gilligan always fucks it all up for them.
“So what’s the deal with Ginger and MaryAnn?”
“Well guys usually have a very strong opinion about which one they like more.”
“That’s easy, which one’s hotter?”
“Well see that’s the crux of the debate. Ginger is a movie star. She’s beautiful, she has red hair, and she has a voluptuous body.”
“What the hell does voluptuous mean?”
“Jesus, remind me to start doing vocabulary words with you. It means big boobs.”
“Oh, Okay. Now I get it.”
“Ginger acts horny all the time and makes Gilligan uncomfortable. She’s a sure thing. MaryAnn, on the other hand, is a farm girl. She doesn’t wear any make-up and she has brown hair which she wears in these dorky pigtails but apparently, men think her understated look is super hot. She’s also sweet and doesn’t seem to want to make the moves on anyone. I think the professor wanted her bad though.”
“So she kinda looks like you?”
“What? I don’t look like MaryAnn. Besides, you’ve never seen her.”
“Well you have brown hair and you’re not wearing makeup. You’re from the Midwest. You don’t have those pigtail things going on though.”
“That’s true.” I wasn’t voluptuous either. I had a feeling my solid C cup was now closer to a B because I was down a few pounds.
“So guys always choose one or the other?” He asked.
“Yes, most guys have a very specific opinion about which one they prefer. You can Google it when we get home.”
Later, when I was almost asleep T.J. said, “Definitely MaryAnn.”
“You said Ginger or MaryAnn. I choose MaryAnn.”
“Oh.” Well that was interesting.
It was still raining enough so that we had water to drink, but just barely. I turned thirty-one and had a couple of bad days. Ever since T.J. and I had talked about accepting our situation, and living one day at a time, I had tried hard to stay upbeat and continue with the mindset that the island was just where we lived for now. That someday we’d be rescued. The truth, though, was that T.J. was way more resilient than I was, maybe because of his age or maybe because his personality was more easy-going than mine. That didn’t mean I thought being on the island was less hard for him, because it sucked equally for both of us, but felt like he had a better handle on his emotions than I did. He remained on an even keel while my moods seemed to bounce around.
I started swimming more often, still with T.J. in the morning but again at night by myself. It helped some. I also wasn’t sleeping well at all. I told T.J. never to worry about the fire because I couldn’t sleep through the night anyway.
T.J. tried to draw me out of my funk when he noticed I was quieter than usual or seemed down. He knew I missed my family more than anything and he asked me endless questions about them. Talking about my mom and dad, and Sarah and her husband and the kids helped some. I thought about what it would be like when we were finally rescued and they found out I wasn’t dead. What a miraculous gift that would be for our families. I played the scene of our homecoming over and over in my mind.
I was having the most vivid dream. I was lying in a huge bed and John was sleeping beside me. I kissed his neck, gently at first and then harder. I moved my way down to his chest and kept kissing. He woke up and rolled me onto my back. He kissed me, pressing his lips to mine urgently. His fingers caught in my hair and he pulled my head back so that he could suck on my neck. He pulled my tank top off and brought his mouth down to my nipple. It felt odd and I woke up.
T.J. was on top of me, very much awake, with my nipple in his mouth.
I wriggled out from underneath him and sat up. “Oh my God.” I grabbed my tank top and put it on. I looked over at T.J. He was lying on his back with his eyes closed, breathing hard.
Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. Way to go Anna, molest him in his sleep.
I scrambled to get out of the life raft and went down to the shore. I was sitting on the sand with my feet in the water when T.J. walked up and sat down beside me. I couldn’t look him in the eye. “I don’t even know what to say,” I told him.
“It’s no big deal.”
I looked at him and the expression on my face showed him that it was, in fact, a very big deal. “I was dreaming.”
“I figured that out.
“I was confused. I thought you were John.”
“You must miss him, huh?”
“No. I’m going to break up with him when I get home.”
“Because he doesn’t want to marry me and he never wants kids.”
“Oh.” He seemed confused. “But in your dream you were kissing him.”
“That dream didn’t really have anything to do with John, it was just the most recent memory I had knocking around in my subconscious. I had a dream I was making out with my dentist once and believe me, I’m not attracted to him at all.” It had everything to do with feeling like having sex though I wasn’t about to tell him that. I never thought about John. If there was one thing I knew for sure, it was that I was done with him. Life was too short to settle for someone who didn’t want the same things I did. Taking the job with the Callahan’s had helped me make up my mind after all.
“Oh.” I knew he was still confused.
I sighed. “I’m really sorry. You probably wondered what the hell I was doing.”
“Well, yeah. I was kind of asleep too though, at least at first. You don’t have to say you’re sorry.”
“I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. Or think I was trying to do something completely inappropriate to you.”
He rolled his eyes at me. “I wasn’t uncomfortable.” Well that was probably true. He appeared to have been enjoying himself. I could have pushed that angle if I felt like it but since I’d been the one to jump him, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut.
I thought of something then. “Do you have a girlfriend back home?” That was something I’d never thought to ask him although I wasn’t sure why. I guess I thought he would have mentioned it, or said something about missing her if he’d had someone waiting at home.
He shook his head. “I did. I don’t anymore.”
“Who was she?”
“Her name was Emma. I met her at the hospital. She was taking chemo in the chair next to mine one day.” He smiled and I thought he must have been picturing her in his mind. “She was fourteen.”
“What kind of cancer did she have?”
“Leukemia. She had been in remission once but had already relapsed when I met her. We spent a lot of time sitting in those chairs, hooked up to needles. I hated losing my hair but she really hated it. I suppose it’s worse for girls. When you’re bald, it’s kind of nice to be with someone else who is bald too.”
“Did you ever get to spend time together when you weren’t having chemo?”
“Not really, but she knew the hospital well. The nurses always looked the other way when they discovered us someplace we shouldn’t have been. Sometimes we would go up on the roof where there was a spot we could sit out of sight.
“She had a very specific list of things she wanted to do. She wanted us to go on a date but her immune system was too crappy to be in a crowd so we didn’t get to cross that off. The nurses let us watch a DVD in an empty room one night though. She wanted to drive a car, go to a school dance, and kiss me at the top of the Sears Tower. We couldn’t do any of it. She wanted to lose her virginity. We accomplished that one. She wanted us to spend the whole night together. We couldn’t do that one either.
“Did you love her?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It was such a weird time. She was so sick and my chemo stopped working and I had to start radiation. Things fell apart after that and then she died.”
“Oh my God, T.J. I’m so sorry.” I felt like crying.
“You’ll fall in love someday T.J. We’ll get off this island and you’ll find someone.”
“I know that. Just because I’ve never been in love doesn’t mean I won’t recognize it when it happens.”
Things seemed awkward between us for a few days but then returned to normal. When I walked back from the beach one day a week later, T.J. was prying his braces off with the Swiss army knife. That’s when I realized what had made me wake up when I’d been having the dream.
A boy wearing braces on his teeth had never had my nipple in his mouth before.
We had been on the island for a little over a year when T.J. said, “I’ve been thinking about building a better shelter, using the wood from Bone’s shack. I want to demolish it and carry the boards back to the beach and make us something decent to live in. I need something to do Anna.”
“I need something to do too and I have an idea. Hear me out before you shoot it down. I’d like to start tutoring you because when we get off this island, you’re going to be even farther behind than you were when we crashed.” I didn’t have any of the materials I’d need, of course, having shipped everything to the resort ahead of time. I’d sent two boxes of textbooks and a list of assignments for T.J. to complete. Without it, I’d have to teach him from memory.
“Is this because I didn’t know what voluptuous meant?”
“No.” I smiled at him. “Teaching is what I do. It’s my job and I love it. I miss it and I can teach you.”
“I’m never going to catch up Anna.”
“It won’t be easy but you can. You’re going to be seventeen in a few months. Depending on when someone finally rescues us, you may just want to try and take your GED test. I can teach you some of what you’d need to pass the test and help you with the rest when we get home. I can help you build us a house and I can teach you things at the same time. It will be just like when we talk except I’ll tell you things and I’ll ask you questions later. You’re very bright T.J. I saw your transcript. School wasn’t hard for you.”
“I’ll give it a try, I guess.”
I smiled at him. “Good. You won’t regret it T.J. You’ll thank me some day.”
T.J. and I knocked down Bone’s shack and carried the wood piece by piece back to the beach. The wood was in good shape considering the humidity and I thought we’d have enough to make a decent sized house. “Have you noticed that sticky stuff on the breadfruit trees?” T.J. asked me. I nodded. “I’m going to use that for glue.”
T.J. used the roll-down doors from the life raft canopy as our front door since the life raft itself would be inside the house instead of next to the lean-to. I loved that idea because I always felt cramped from above when I was in the life raft because the canopy was so low. T.J. teased me about my claustrophobia but I really couldn’t stand having something above my head like that. The life raft felt more open and air circulated better. (more about building the shack – start tutoring session)
It was the rainy season again and T.J. and I didn’t have to worry about our water supply so much. I was a little worried about our dwindling supply of soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. We were very careful to conserve everything, and we tried not to use the soap every day, washing with water only if we weren’t too stinky. We always brushed our teeth but we used as little toothpaste as possible. I ran out of woolite and had to wash our clothes in the ocean with just water.
Mention rainy season is back – mention storms – no worries about water. Mention dwindling toiletries.
T.J. gets bigger, hair is longer, needs to shave
t.j. breaks collarbone(has to take a break from building because he is hurt)trying to get the young green coconuts that anna likes.
T.j. watches anna bathe
Anna shaves t.j.
t.j. combs anna’s hair I was lying back on his chest. (his arms encircled me from behind, and his hands rested on my bare stomach)
T.j. flirts all the time. Always watching her, touching her.
Eating shark-stomach-takes hand to lead her into water.
Wants her to take bath with him because she’s scared even though shark is gone. No way she tells him. It’s not that I didn’t trust him, it’s that I wasn’t sure I could trust myself.
Storm and cave.
When anna finally kisses t.j. she needs to have the internal thought honestly, he just wore me down.
Pie analogy scene