Castaways - Adrift
Thanks to Mitzi and Beth who are the best beta readers!
No 5 in the series and follows Castaways - Tide's Turning
Standish lifted heavy eyelids to watch Josiah and Buck’s attempt at constructing a long table from bamboo. They juggled the slender poles awkwardly and attempted to arrange them in some order, but it was clear that neither man was an accomplished carpenter. Even with his lack of experience in this field, Ezra had no doubt that the chef and the former Navy man were struggling with the given task. It was truly a pathetic attempt. A small smile danced at the corners of Ezra’s mouth as the task drew curses and cries of frustration from the two normally placid individuals. It probably didn’t help them having an audience or receiving unsolicited advice from the sidelines.
“I’ve got it…no…no…Buck, hold those pieces together,” Josiah ordered, as he fumbled with the opposite ends of numerous bamboo poles. This was certainly more difficult than he’d first imagined, and far too amusing for the survivors who stood by watching. They were all there…except for Chris, but he hadn’t been too keen on building a table…given his reaction—or lack of reaction, the previous night when the idea had been conceived. According to Vin, Chris had left camp early that morning—obviously he wanted no part in building the table. They could have used his expertise…none of their ideas were coming together.
“Damn it, Josiah, I’m doing the best I can here,” Wilmington responded, equally frustrated. How was it that he’d been roped into helping? Rope…now that would be of some use…pity they didn’t have any to spare. This damn narrow grass wasn’t working out, it kept splitting and breaking. So why did it have to be him, and not Tanner? Or even Nathan? What had he said to be cornered into this activity? He couldn’t remember, and wasn’t foolish enough to ask. This was turning into a spectacle. It had seemed like a good idea last night—making a table—but when you had no ready tools, building the thing had become a job of mammoth proportions. He had begun to wonder if a table was really a necessity. Chris was better at this kind of stuff…he should be here helping…at least he’d know what to do.
“I know…I know,” the older man sighed, then glared at the snickers that emanated from the sidelines. “You all planning on just watching?”
“Yer putting on quite a show there, Josiah,” Vin chuckled, settling on the ground and folding his legs Indian style to further enjoy the entertainment; something that had been few and far between since being shipwrecked on the island.
“That was never my intention,” he grunted, dropping the poles and bringing his hands up on his hips.
“Perhaps if you laid them out flat—” Nathan suggested, but immediately fell silent at the aggrieved look sent his way.
Josiah rolled his eyes…they’d tried that first. After failing to form a sturdy workbench they’d unraveled their painstaking work and began again, amid the chuckles and amusement of Tanner, Dunne, Jackson, and to some extent, Standish. Following that debacle, Jackson had been the one to suggest they try holding them off the ground. Sanchez had already decided that the doctor was pulling his chain…there was no way they could fasten them together like that. “Your turn, Doc.” Josiah grinned widely, daring Nathan to pick up the challenge.
Ezra continued to watch the table’s production, but as Nathan, Vin and JD all in turn acquiesced to contribute their help, Ezra decided it was time to depart. He had no experience working with his hands and wasn’t about to demonstrate his ineptitude. It had been amusing watching the construction, but he wasn’t about to put himself out there on the front line. Let them think he was lazy…it’s probably what they were thinking anyhow.
Standish quietly disappeared through the greenery surrounding their campsite. He didn’t notice that work on the table paused, or the five men he’d been watching had surreptitiously been keeping an eye on him. He would have been surprised had he witnessed their concern.
Standish walked quickly to the beach along the well-used path, jumped to the soft sand and jogged out to the wet surface. When he hit the compacted sand he increased his rhythm, running up the beach. Panting hard, Standish veered off into the jungle; following a route he’d forged himself. It would take him inward to the centre of the island.
“Damn it!” Chris shouted. Where the hell was everyone? Chris tried to find some purchase under his feet, but only managed to sink further into the pit of sand. FUCK! He stopped struggling and sucked in a long breath. Calm, Larabee. He had plenty of time…and if he didn’t struggle too much—like hell! He was going to drown on this Godforsaken island in a puddle of mud! And nobody would be any the wiser. “Vin! Buck! Anyone? Get me out of this shit!” he hollered.
Chris twisted about in the thick sludge attempting to swim to the edge, but his movements were heavy and clumsy, and pulling himself out seemed insurmountable. Shit! Held securely by the sand he flopped back his head and cried out in frustration. Birds in the trees above took flight in alarm leaving him wondering, yet again, why none of the others answered his call. Already most of his torso had disappeared below the surface, his legs desperately pedaled below, but his strength and endurance was waning. How long had it been since he’d accidentally tripped and wound up in the quicksand? How much longer did he have before he was swallowed whole? “There is no way I’m gonna be fodder to be digested over a million years! HELP! VIN!” he called out with renewed determination.
He wiped his sweaty face and gazed up at the leafy coverage above; small speckles of sunlight filtered down through the canopy and he naturally caught glimpses of the cloud free sky that had beckoned him so early that morning. Fuck! Why had he taken off on his own? Cuz he wanted some time alone, some time to come to terms with their situation.
Larabee hadn’t been in the mood for building furniture….there’d been way too much excitement the night before when Josiah had made the suggestion to build a table. Sanchez had said it would be quite simple and all the others seemed keen. They were all probably working on it now, totally obliviously to his situation. He doubted they even considered, that by starting such a project, they were confirming their acceptance—coming to terms with being trapped on this island. That wasn’t an option for him. He needed to escape. He had plans for the future and they had nothing to do with some un-chartered deserted island in the middle of nowhere.
Chris scooped up a handful of the bog and disgustedly flung it away from the pit. He felt himself slip deeper into the sludge and his heart jumped frantically; his Adam’s apple bobbing quickly as he choked out another scream for help.
“Stupid…Stupid.” Always telling the others to stick to the trails they knew…no exploring unless they were in pairs. Why hadn’t he followed his own set of rules? They’d give him hell when they found out. Chris snorted, a chuckle followed until he was outright laughing—a hysterical laugh. It broke off abruptly as panic overrode his common sense and he struggled frantically for the edge, but the bog clung to him and dragged him down. He was drowning in quicksand and it annoyed the hell out of him. “Is anyone out there?” he screamed, then added, “Dammit all to hell!”
Ezra flicked aside a palm frond as he jogged up the sandy incline. Sweat trickled down his spine as he pushed himself toward his limits and deeper into the undergrowth. He had a lot to consider and while they were trapped on this island it gave him ample time for reflection. He’d been spending far too much time in contemplation lately, but the six men he’d been marooned with seemed to have that effect on him, more than he’d ever known previously.
With each step he pounded onto the earth, numerous things shuffled through his mind. Absently he wondered how much longer his sport’s shoes would withstand the rigors of island life. They’d already withstood three months of constant use, and were showing considerable wear. His other choice of footwear, a pair of $360 loafers, was only suitable for the paved walkways of modern living, not the rustic existence they’d been condemned to. He supposed he’d have to improvise when they became unsalvageable. This was one of the lesser problems that hounded him, though.
Standish continued to slog up the worn track, his pace steady and his steps sure. He flicked at a trickle of sweat on his forehead and pushed at his cap…it was too humid for such activity, but pointless indolence wasn’t his forte. The others would probably dispute this point. So why should it matter what they thought of him? It came as a bit of a revelation to realize that what these six men thought, was important to him. And their low opinion of him was solely due to his own doing. If he hadn’t wrecked the ship’s radio or the GPS, then it would be doubtful that they’d even be stranded—according to Larabee. Ezra had not foreseen how disastrous the repercussions of his actions could have been. If only he’d known. It was hardly any wonder they were reticent around him.
The point now though, was did he want to change their opinions? There was a simple answer to that—a resounding, yes. That should have come as a revelation to him, but it was actually more of a surprise to realize that it didn’t. These were good men, and he’d count himself lucky if they ever considered him a friend. But was it too late? Would they forgive him if they knew the truth? He couldn’t see how they would, but he could try.
The track was coming to an end and unless he intended to climb and scramble over rocks, he’d need to turn back. He stopped and bent at the waist to recover his breath. Ezra swallowed a mouthful of water from his canteen and absently glanced up into the canopy of trees as a dozen or more parrots burst into flight screeching in a high pitched wail. He followed their path across the sky, as they flew to the branches of another stand of trees, eventually disappearing under the foliage. “Wonder what disturbed them?” He purposely drank down another swallow, waiting for the parrot’s melee to fade into the distance so he could determine if he was in any immediate danger.
Ezra screwed the cap back on the canteen and methodically clipped it to his waist, all the while scanning the upper canopy for a source of the parrots’ commotion. There were many species of wildlife on this deserted island and several number that were a danger to the castaways. The birds had not been relegated to that category, but something had startled them into flight. “Probably nothing,” he decided, as a guttural howl turned his attention downwards. “What the hell was that?” He tipped his head to the side and wondered if his mind was playing tricks on him. His breathing had returned to a more natural rate and he warily wandered from the path. There it was again…he paused in his steps and focused on the direction the noise came from.
Ezra cautiously made his way towards the cries, and as he drew nearer the sounds grew more familiar. He parted the brush aside to see Larabee up to his neck in quicksand. Another step closer and he would have inadvertently joined him. “Chris!” he called, dropping to his knees with merriment in his eyes. “Even I wouldn’t have suspected you’d enjoy the pleasures of a mud bath,” Standish ribbed.
“Standish…don’t just sit there…Get me out of here,” Larabee ordered. Why the hell was he grinning like a fool? Couldn’t Standish see that he was in trouble?
Ezra cleared his throat, but made no effort to reach the drowning man. “You do realize you’re in quicksand—”
“Fuck you! Of course, I know!”
Ezra sat back on his heels and grinned. This was too much fun and he couldn’t resist. He should have known better. “You should probably get out before it becomes impossible.”
Smart-ass. “And how do you propose I do that?” he sneered, wondering if Standish was going to allow him to drown. Calm down…don’t want to put your only help offside.
Standish licked his lips and smirked. This small favor should get him on Larabee’s good side. Larabee would be indebted to him. “Relax.”
“Dammit, Standish! I’m gonna relax my fingers around your neck when I get out of here,” he threatened.
Ezra sighed… teasing the captain wasn’t helping his case. Guess Larabee was in no mood for levity. “I suggest you lie back and relax…your body will naturally float to the surface.”
Chris glowered at the Southerner. Relax, he says. “I’m sinking here, Standish, if you haven’t noticed.”
“Yes, you have got yourself in quite a predicament. Panicking will only exacerbate your sinking—”
Chris lifted his arm to the surface and flung a dollop at Standish. “Get me out!”
Ezra shrugged and stood, looking about for a suitable bridge. Picking up a green frond, he held it out to Larabee. “This isn’t going to work—”
“Give it here.”
“Quicksand has a density greater than water,” he prattled, while Chris groped for the frond, “which is why you can float easier on quicksand than in water.” Amazing how useless trivia can ultimately become lifesaving information. Hell…he would have sworn that there would never have been a situation that would arise to benefit the use of knowing that. Not that Larabee seemed to be interested in his revelation.
Chris grunted and tugged on the branch, but his body was wedged solidly in the thick soup. And Standish wasn’t helping in the slightest. “Any more bright ideas?” he snarled.
Standish tossed the palm frond aside and knelt at the edge of the pit. “Try increasing your surface area, spread your arms and legs out…and please attempt to calm yourself. You need to rid yourself of all tension then you’ll naturally float to the surface. It will be a simple matter to retrieve you then,” he smirked, covering a small seed of doubt behind the smile. There had to be some thread of truth in that statement, otherwise why would it have been published in print?
It went against the grain, but Chris grudgingly rested his head back in the glop. Closing his eyes, he loosened the tension in his shoulders and lower limbs wondering how long Standish would bask in his dominance before submitting to pull him out. Minutes ticked by and he felt his body begin drifting toward the surface. He sputtered a guttural noise of surprise.
“Concentrate, Chris,” Standish encouraged. It was working. If he wasn’t seeing it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed it possible.
Larabee was buoyed by the progress and attempted to swim, but the sudden movements had the reverse effect.
“Slow movements,” Standish advised. “Widen your surface area.”
Chris followed the directive and was relieved to find his legs floating to the surface.
Ezra leaned out into the quicksand, reaching for the captain. “Chris…can you grab my hand?”
This time Chris made the distance. He clutched onto the Southerner’s hand and was rewarded with Standish pulling him free of the quicksand. Larabee crawled onto solid ground and collapsed. It had been a hell of a morning. “You’re an asshole, Standish.”
Ezra gaped. So much for thanks. “You’re welcome,” he retorted. “Enjoy the rest of your day.” Then he was gone.
Chris rolled onto his back and blinked. Standish almost sounded insulted. “Shit!” Why the hell should he? I had to pull myself out of the sludge hole practically by myself. But a little voice in the back of his mind reminded him that he’d been trapped in the quicksand for hours before Ezra came along, and without the Southerner’s guidance he wouldn’t have managed to free himself. “Hell!”
Chris crawled to his feet and stumbled through the undergrowth. God, his legs were worn-out. He’d only gone several paces when he came across the former car-salesman waiting for him on the path.
“Need some assistance?”
Ezra grinned. “That wasn’t so hard to say, was it?”
That smug grin was back in place and it irritated Chris no end. He grimaced, barely holding onto his temper. He wasn’t really angry at the Southerner, but at his disastrous near-fatal mistake. Unfortunately, Ezra was there and Chris was in need to vent. “Wasn’t like you did much—”
Chris snorted. “I had to do everything myself.”
“You were doing such a superlative job of rescuing yourself before I arrived,” he scoffed. “You were up to your neck in quicksand—”
“I said thanks…what more do you want?”
Ezra stared at the captain, silently assessing. What did he want? Maybe for Chris to mean the words he spoke.
As if reading Ezra’s thought’s, Chris repeated his previous thanks. “Thank…you…Ezra,” Larabee slowly punctuated each word. When Ezra finally nodded, Chris continued... he’d rather the others didn’t find out about his mishap. “I’d prefer if we could keep this between us—”
“There isn’t any need to tell the others about this.”
“I see,” Standish drawled. He understood alright. Larabee was embarrassed and couldn’t afford to lose his infallibility in the eyes of the others. And to admit that Ezra had saved his life…God forbid! “Fine.”
“Where are you going?” What was Ezra’s problem now?
“Anywhere, but here,” Standish replied. “You may want to consider cleaning yourself up, if you seriously intend keeping this a secret from the others,” he added derisively, throwing the comment over his shoulder as he left Larabee on wobbly legs.
Ezra hastened down the path, leaving Larabee to make his own way back to camp. Larabee was such an ass! They’d never begin to see eye to eye…so why should he bother? Chris had been on his case from the very first day they’d met…it wasn’t his fault that Maude had no intention of investing in Chris and Buck’s scheme, but he had been the catalyst that had destroyed their dream. Thinking back on it, Ezra had to admit that the idea had been sound and he’d been interested himself, but he didn’t have the ready cash to invest in their venture, not unless he’d sold his shares. He may have been convinced to make a plea to his mother on their behalf, but once she’d discovered his involvement then Maude would have been more determined to have nothing to do with the venture. They’d been doomed from the beginning. Now it didn’t matter. Except to Larabee, who seemed determined to hold a grudge.
Of course his attitude and actions on the yacht may have influenced Chris some—he hadn’t been particularly pleasant that day. Standish sighed and punched the air in frustration. He grimaced with distaste to see a glob of mud splatter to the ground. He looked down at himself and groaned. “Aw hell.” When he’d lain down to help Chris his shirt had become a fatality to cleanliness – it was covered in brown sludge. “Great,” he muttered sarcastically. He’d been so caught up in the rescue he hadn’t even considered how he looked—should have, considering Larabee’s appearance. He flicked some of the thick chunks of mud off his polo shirt, but realized nothing short of soaking the material would bring it clean. A slight deviation in his route would bring him alongside the waterfall. He’d get cleaned up there first.
The Southerner clambered through a web of vines and tangle of roots, keeping his eyes focused on the spot he was aiming for. He’d discovered this sidetrack a few days ago and found that it cut off a considerable corner, but he had to take it slow. The new trail opened out on another path that wound around the side of the waterfall, but there was no direct path down to the bottom from this side and it was necessary to climb up the side of the waterfall, cross over the top, and come down the opposite side. He’d done it before, and it wasn’t overly taxing, especially as the waterfall was only a slight trickle that cascaded over the edge.
Ezra reached for the top and pulled himself over the rocky ledge. “Too easy.” He leant over the side and looked down at the clear pool at the bottom; the seven of them had spent many hours at the rock pool when time allowed. It was their primary source of fresh water for bathing, swimming and for doing their laundry. And it was quite peaceful, too. It wasn’t their source of drinking water though, that was further up stream…it wouldn’t do to contaminate the water they drank by swimming and washing in it. He sat back from the edge and sighed. No one was down there at present; they were still likely working on the new table.
He stood up, wishing he could rinse out his shirt at the top, but the few inches weren’t really enough. He jumped over the narrow strip of water and immediately knew he was in trouble. His soles slipped on the slimy rocks and he crashed hard, landing on his hip. A startled yelp rose up in his throat and broke free as his fall continued and he slid off the peak of the waterfall and fell over the side. Aw shit! “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”
Larabee looked down at himself and realized Standish hadn’t been joking, he was a sight. He looked at his bare feet and moaned – his shoes had been lost while he struggled in the quicksand. Damn! He wiggled his toes and looked about for Ezra. The conman had been quick to disappear, but Larabee had found, what he hoped was Ezra’s tracks and he had no trouble following them. He’d been tempted to turn back when the Southerner left the well-worn track and headed cross-country, but he persevered, curious to know where Ezra was going.
Chris had been angry and he’d let that have control over his words. Standish had saved his life. It shouldn’t matter that he’d hardly raised a sweat to do it. That little talk he’d had with Buck the other day should have cleared his focus, but spending all morning struggling to keep his head above the quicksand had heightened his emotions. Surely Ezra would understand this and forgive him? He shouldn’t have taken his frustrations out on the Southerner and he owed Ezra an apology, for his ingratitude and for expecting Standish to cover-up his mistake. The others were going to find out… he should be man enough to take their censure. He would speak with Ezra first…apologize – and he’d rather do it out here than back at camp with an audience.
Larabee bent down and picked at the narrow passage. He’d have to crawl through this section if he was to continue. He thought it amusing that the fastidious dresser resorted to crawling through here. “Well, if Standish did it…so am I.” Grass was flattened at the entrance and vines where pulled apart; it could have been made by an animal, but he didn’t think so. It had come to his attention that the waterfall was fairly close, so he persisted. He could certainly do with a wash, even if he didn’t come across the errant Southerner.
When Larabee crawled through the last barrier he finally recognized where he was. He looked down at the number of scratches that criss-crossed his arms and legs and sighed, wondering if it’d been worth the bother. Standish couldn’t be too far ahead of him. He stretched his cramped limbs and began the climb up alongside the waterfall. He felt a stab of concern when he saw the conman sitting close to the edge at the top, but swallowed down his fear as ridiculous…nothing was going to happen. Then the foolish Southerner stood up. Damn idiot is just asking for trouble. Larabee considered calling out, telling Standish to get back from the edge, but he didn’t want to chance startling the man. This thought had only just been dismissed when he saw Ezra slip and disappear over the wall. “Shit! Ezra!” Chris picked up the pace and clambered up the rocky precipice. “Standish?”
Chris nervously leant over the edge, expecting to find Standish in a mangled heap at the bottom. His breath caught in his throat when instead, he discovered Ezra dangling off the wall several feet from the top—holding onto a latticework of vines. Lucky bastard. He spread himself out over the surface and figured it was time for a little payback. “You planning on hanging around down there all day?”
Ezra looked up at Larabee’s grinning face and instinctively tightened his grip on the vines. He sighed and buried his face in the vegetation. Why me? After the hell he’d given Chris while he was buried in quicksand…why did it have to be Chris that he now depended on? That was irony for you.
Oh shit! Chris bit off another barb seeing the blood that trickled down Ezra’s face. He frowned at the look of despondency that greeted his words. What had he expected? Relief? Of course he had. Any of the others would have greeted his arrival as timely and been reassured…but that wasn’t the reaction from Standish. Perhaps he thought his chances of rescue had reduced – it had been Chris’ initial reaction to having to depend on Ezra to rescue him from the quicksand – but Standish didn’t leave him and he wouldn’t abandon the Southerner either. Larabee couldn’t leave an enemy hanging in the breeze, and that wasn’t how he thought of Ezra. He was a friend, but did Standish realize this? Probably didn’t after all they’d been through. “Can you climb back up?”
Ezra shook his head; his arms trembled with supporting his weight. “My leg’s caught.” His right leg had threaded a path through the thatch of vines as he fell and fortunately prevented him from falling further. He’d managed to pull himself upright, but could not untangle his leg. Not without some help. Would Larabee offer some assistance if he asked?
“Don’t move…I’m coming down.”
“NO!” Was he crazy? He didn’t want to be responsible for both their deaths.
Chris leaned over the side and swore. “You got a better idea?” Why was he being difficult? Standish didn’t look back up, but Chris could see him shake his head. “Be there in a tick,” he advised, swinging his legs over the side and climbing down using the natural trellis.
A fine spray of misty water sprinkled out from the tumbling waterfall; the rock face beneath the lattice of vines was damp and moist. The heady scent of mildew and moss clung in the air and the trickle of water at the top had grown in width, if not capacity, the further down he went. The back of Larabee’s shirt and shorts were already feeling damp. He tested each section of vines before adding his weight to it and tried to use a different set of vines to the ones Ezra was tangled in, but they were all so intertwined that he wasn’t certain that he was doing exactly that. When he reached Ezra he hooked his feet around the vines so he had at least one arm free to check the conman. “How you doing, Ezra?”
Standish rolled his eyes. “Just peachy.”
Chris smiled and lightly touched Standish in the middle of his back. “You enjoy abseiling?”
A whisper of a smile touched Ezra’s features. “I’d prefer to use better equipment.”
“Should always check it first,” Larabee advised on a serious note. He flipped open his pocket knife and started sawing away at the pieces that were holding Ezra’s leg trapped. “Can you move it?” he asked, concerned that the leg could be broken.
“Yes.” He demonstrated when the last vine was unwrapped, but winced at the pull of tensed muscle, ligaments and fresh bruising.
“Hmmm,” he agreed, anxious to be back on level ground.
“We’re going to take it slow and easy on the way down.” He’d seen the strain in Ezra’s shoulders and knew they’d struggle to climb back up; it’d be safer to go down. After his mammoth efforts in the quicksand, Chris had limited reserves too.
“I hate to point this out…but these vines…don’t reach solid ground…and we are that much closer to the top. Wouldn’t it be better to go up?”
Larabee looked down and groaned. He should have noticed this. “We’d be working against gravity…it’d be safer to head down. When we get closer to the bottom, I’ll cut some of these vines and lower you the rest of the way down.”
Would Chris really do this for him? “That doesn’t help you—” His sentence was cut off when the vines above them broke.
The echo of joint screams drifted up from the waterfall.
“Woo-Eee! What a rush,” Larabee enthused. They’d slipped approximately twenty feet before coming to a sudden jolt; he didn’t recommend such a fast descent, but they were that much closer now to safety. The vines appeared to reach almost all the way down…and so long as the vines supporting them didn’t fail them again, they had a better chance now.
Larabee was an adrenalin freak? Ezra would never have guessed. Perhaps there was more to this man than he’d first suspected. “You, sir, are a sadist,” he groaned and used his shoulder to awkwardly wipe off the blood that was currently running into his eyes.
Chris snapped out of his high and stared up at Standish. He was still hanging on. “Are you okay?”
“Splendid…Although, I would have preferred to have undertaken this in my own time,” Standish responded, his knuckles white from the strain. He winced when the vines snapped, stretching and pulling away from the wall with the weight of the two castaways, effectively dropping them a fraction lower. “Oh, joy,” he grimaced, attempting to find purchase by digging the toes of his shoes into the cracks of the wall beneath the vines.
“Let’s go!” They’d been hanging here for far too long in his estimation.
“Don’t let me stop you,” Standish quipped.
“Now, Ezra!” he ordered.
Standish stalled, either unconsciously or deliberately, but his muscles had cramped and he couldn’t talk his mind around loosening his grip. It took an enormous effort to admit, to Larabee; “I can’t.”
“What a load of shit!” Larabee yelled, drawing breath to continue the tirade. He wasn’t waiting around until they fell to their death. Although, it may only be broken bones now that they were nearer the ground, but still…he didn’t want to consider how busted up he could become.
“I agree,” Ezra interrupted, frustrated with himself and for admitting his weakness—especially to Chris. He’d thought for a moment that Chris would understand. “Unfortunately, I can’t… let go.”
Come on, Standish…snap out of it! “This ain’t the time for this, Ezra,” he growled.
Standish bowed his head forward and muttered. Like I didn’t know that already.
Larabee glanced down, knowing it would hurt like hell to fall. No use cajoling… “Always figured you were chicken-shit! Stay here, then… but I’m going down.”
Ezra’s eyes widened, taken back by the verbal attack. Typical! He watched the top of Chris’ head drop lower before glancing at his white-knuckled grip. Damn it! If Chris could drag himself out of quicksand then he could surely climb down thirty feet. Hell, it was nothing new…he’d done stuff like this before…always had a safety line before though, he swore quietly. Trust him to get suck up here with an adrenalin junkie!
Chris glanced up and grinned seeing Standish tentatively release and lower himself. “Take it easy…move your foot slightly to the right,” he encouraged.
Chris guided Standish around the rocks, skirting the rock pool and to a relatively flat spot on land. Standish responded duly, following the captain’s instructions without complaint. “Here…sit,” Chris ordered, crouching in front of Ezra. “Let me take a look at that cut. It doesn’t look too bad,” he offered.
Ezra sat heavily and surrendered to Chris ministrations. He could have argued, or stated that he was fine, but in fact his head was spinning, he was nauseous, his limbs had turned to jelly and he simply didn’t have the energy. When the older man stood back to remove his shirt and headed over to the water’s edge Standish flopped backwards, lifting his arm up and covering his eyes. He could hear the splash and swirl of water and assumed Chris was rinsing out his clothing in the pool.
“Hey,” Chris said, returning to Ezra’s side and sitting by his head. He waited for Standish to lift his arm away and wasn’t surprised to see eyes that were unfocused for a moment. He used a strip off his shirt to dab at the cut and when he was satisfied it was clean he replaced it with another piece and applied pressure. “How do you feel?”
Ezra sighed and shrugged. How did he feel? Confused. Larabee’s actions today were in total conflict with everything he’d perceived about the captain. Chris had been angry—Ezra thought it had been directed at him—but still, Larabee never thought twice about helping him—saving him—risking his own life. Was it possible that actions speak louder than words? Was this true of Chris Larabee? Chris had taken care of him and challenged him with his safety. Does Chris express his emotions via his actions rather than words? That would explain things. In their time together on the island, he’d witnessed Chris’ ire, his temper and raised voice used against both Buck and Vin—it had never occurred to him that both men simply ignored these outbursts. They obviously knew Larabee had difficulty expressing his emotions and used actions foremost instead of words. Ezra blinked his eyes and frowned. Why was Larabee staring at him? Oh yeah…“Just tired.”
“We’ll stay here for a while.” Not too long though…Nathan would want to check the Southerner over. He pulled his knees up to his chest and sat his chin on the top of them. They stayed that way for several minutes, only the birdlife filling the void. Chris lifted the cloth off and Ezra immediately reached up to hold it in place. Up until then it was almost as though he’d forgotten Chris had been holding it. The silence lengthened between them and it was a snort that eventually broke the spell. “Didn’t know you could be so quiet.”
Ezra lazily opened one eye and regarded Larabee thoughtfully. “You should take advantage of such a rare occurrence…and not prompt me into conversation.”
Chris returned the grin. “Reckon I owe you an apology—”
“Whatever for?” he asked, clearly astounded by the declaration. “I believe I owe you my thanks,” he started, sitting up on his elbows. The cloth dropped off the wound and Ezra’s focus wavered considerably. “Your timing was impeccable.”
“Yeah…listen…I’ve been giving it a bit of thought lately, and…the thing is…I don’t reckon we got off on the right foot—” Hell, Buck’s been telling me… Vin too. Both Josiah and JD like the Southerner and even Nathan is coming around…perhaps they all can’t be wrong. It shouldn’t have taken Ezra falling off the side of a waterfall to bring him to his senses.
Ezra barked out a laugh and winced. “That, sir, is an understatement!” He lay back on the sparse grass and closed his eyes.
Chris watched the tension that grew in the Southerner and wondered what was going through his mind. “How’d you lose your job?”
Where did that come from? How did he lose his job? A measly forty hour a week job as a car salesman that he’d only had for three months. “My mouth.”
Chris chuckled…he wasn’t surprised by Ezra’s admission. “How long were you a car salesman?” It was something that Larabee found somewhat amusing…he couldn’t picture Standish as a salesman. Given his convivial nature, he probably did a good job, but it was the type of job that just didn’t seem to suit him.
“So you’ve done other things?” Chris asked curiously.
“Hah! What haven’t I done?” He ticked them off on his fingers. “I have tended bars, been a ski instructor, taught Latin dancing, been a sales rep, a horse trainer, waited tables, a valet driver—”
Larabee laughed… A jack of all trades, but proficient at none? That didn’t fit either. “I get the picture.” The silence settled between them once more…eventually Chris was the one to break it. “None of those jobs are exactly permanent—” He wondered if Ezra was just a little rich boy playing at making a living, using his wealthy mother as a crux to fall back on. Although his interviews with Maude gave him no insight into the matter…the woman had never mentioned having a child. And from memory…the photos on her desk were of her husband – there’d been none of Ezra. Had she been ashamed of him? There seemed to be tension in their relationship, judging from Ezra’s side of things. He wondered where Standish’s father fit into the picture.
“Ah…you cut straight to the chase, Mr. Larabee.” Unfortunately, that was the type of work he could get easily. Then there was Maude, who was always just around the corner, pushing him to accept a role in her comforted, yet regimented, life. It wasn’t for him, though. He wanted to make it on his own…yet she kept interfering and tracking him down. She couldn’t here on the island.
“You ever consider a career?”
Ezra sighed, uncertain if he wanted to allow his past to be the centre of this conversation, but he hadn’t spoken to anyone of what had happened back then…there was no one he had trusted—no one to tell his side to. Did he dare divulge it now? To Larabee? Why not? Larabee couldn’t think any less of him…Chris already thought he was the dregs of the earth. There couldn’t be much else that he could add that would lower his opinion.
He sighed, lifting his knees to the sky and drawing his feet towards his rear. He had to live with these people…day in—day out. What could it hurt? “I was a school teacher…until…” he stopped, biting his bottom lip, and stilling any further words. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Chris had actually been conversing with him, treating him like he would Buck or Vin. He’d actually climbed down a cliff-face and helped him down to safety, at considerable risk to himself. Perhaps there was a chance for a thaw in their troubled association. But if he risked revealing the details of how he lost his teaching position…would Chris still be willing to associate with him? He couldn’t risk it, he decided after all.
“Until?” Chris prompted, clearly surprised by the admission—must have rattled his noggin good to loosen his tongue. Yeah…he could see the Southerner as a school teacher. So why’d be give it up? When Ezra refused to say more, he asked; “What subjects?”
“Math and ancient history.”
Chris nodded…there was definitely a story here, but whether he could get Ezra to divulge it now was another thing. He found that he was interested in discovering more…not just about Ezra, but JD too. Chris needed to feel he could trust the people close to him…and understanding them helped to establish this. He only had a small circle of friends that he’d allowed to get close to him. Since Sarah and Adam’s deaths, that circle had grown smaller – he’d pushed all his friends away…only Buck had stuck with him. Buck had brought along Nathan and the doctor brought along Josiah. Vin had been the most recent addition to that circle… and the first friend that Chris had actively taken an interest in joining their group - they’d just clicked. If they hadn’t been stranded on the island, then Chris wouldn’t have given Standish or Dunne the opportunity to breach that circle. But they were marooned together and the specifications had changed. He needed to adjust his restrictions. That in itself was difficult. Their lives were entwined and they needed to depend on one another for their ultimate survival and escape.
It had surprised him that the Southerner had opened up and admitted as much as he had. Obviously trust didn’t come easily to Standish…reckon Tanner was much the same way when they’d first met. Probably why Vin and Ezra took to each other so quickly. “Why’d…When’d,” he corrected, realizing Ezra wasn’t ready to reveal everything, “you give it away?”
Standish sat up and Chris could hear the sadness in his voice as he admitted; “Eighteen months.” He removed his soiled shirt and carried it to the water and dropping it in. He scrubbed at the mud and blood, lost in thought. Another part of his life Maude had interfered with. Damn her! Damn Barrett, the school principal, for believing Maude’s lies, and damn fool that he was to believe he’d be exonerated. Teaching was something he had once enjoyed…but that part of his life was forever closed.
Ezra spread his shirt over a rock to dry and collapsed heavily into a seated position. Larabee was sunning himself dry, while his shorts and tee-shirt dried. Standish didn’t want to resume their previous conversation and groped about for another topic. His eyebrows arched upwards as he eventually asked; “Where are your shoes?”
Chris looked self-consciously at his bare feet and wiggled his toes. “Quicksand.”
“Oh,” Ezra mumbled. How did he miss this earlier?
Chris rolled on his side. “They might rise to the surface…huh?” he laughed, wondering, not for the first time, how Standish knew how to get him out of the quicksand.
Standish smiled thinly, unable to keep eye contact. “I’ve been doing a lot of contemplation of late…” he flicked out his tongue and moistened his bottom lip. “…About the radio and GP—”
Larabee rolled on his stomach and pressed up on his elbows. “Seems like there was more than one person at fault that day,” he interrupted. His little talk with Buck had recently revealed that JD had had a minor part in the malfunctioning equipment, and Buck’s guilty expression made Chris suspect he knew something too. More importantly, Chris was the captain of the yacht…it had been his responsibility. If he hadn’t been pressuring Standish for a commitment in lieu of Maude Devereux, then he probably wouldn’t have taken them out as far, or as long, as he did. When the storm hit they should have already been safely back at the harbor. In addition, the bridge had been left unattended, leaving an opportunity that shouldn’t, ordinarily, have existed.
As much as Chris wanted to hear Ezra admit to the tampering…he knew it would serve little purpose. “I’ll make you a deal.”
Ezra tilted his head to the side, curiosity and suspicion evident in his expression. “What exactly would this deal entail?”
“While we’re on the island…we won’t mention it again—”
“That seems very generous…what do you get from this transaction?”
Larabee grinned. “Peace and quiet…not to mention less stress.”
Ezra stared long and hard at the captain. Was he serious? “Are there any other stipulations I need to be aware of?”
“Nope…so long as you pull your share of the chores.”
“What of the others?” Especially, Nathan?
“I’ll talk to them.”
What more could he have asked for? This was definitely a good omen. He shrugged his shoulders and held out his hand. “Deal,” he grinned.
Chris shook the outstretched hand. “Great! Now we just need to come up with a good reason for why I’ve lost my shoes and you’re bruised and bloodied.”
Ezra laughed, a glint of mischief reached his eyes. “We could admit to having it out.”
“That’d work,” he returned the smile.
Larabee walked into camp slightly ahead of Ezra. It’d been a sluggish return without footwear and although Standish claimed to have no ill-effects from banging his head on the rock wall, he had stumbled with a frequency that urged Chris to lengthen his stride. The sooner Nathan could check over the Southerner the happier he would be.
Camp was suspiciously quiet when they stepped out from the jungle. Where was everyone? Chris glanced sullenly at the pile of bamboo poles left unattended and heaved a disappointed sigh. Not a carpenter among them—they’d left it for him. His eyes continued to skim around the camp seeking his fellow survivors. A wave of relief fluttered through his stomach when Buck appeared in the entrance of the cave. He raised his hand in greeting.
Wilmington stepped out of the cave and shielded his eyes as they adjusted to the light. It’d been a long morning and knuckles were bruised and fingers raw. He looked resentfully at the disastrous pile of bamboo that should now resemble a sturdy table, but didn’t. They’d struggled to make it, fought with the timber and cussed each other, but in the long run it hadn’t helped. It had been a unanimous decision to quit. The others had gravitated away, claiming chores as an excuse, leaving Josiah and him to tidy up the mess. Wilmington was truly disappointed with their combined efforts, as were the others. Josiah had been particularly quiet and Buck knew he felt wretched. There should have been something to show for their efforts, but there wasn’t. He knew Larabee would have some ideas and would make a much better job. He hoped Chris would return soon.
The thought had only just surfaced when Chris came into sight. Buck’s mood lifted immediately. It was early afternoon and he admitted, if only to himself, that Larabee had been absent for far longer than normal. Tanner had gotten it into his head that Chris had been in trouble and gone off in search of him. But there was no need—Chris was fine. His relief doubled, realizing Ezra had returned also. Vin was going to be pissed, but Buck had tried to talk him out of going. It mattered neither here nor there that Buck had been planning on joining the search. “Hey, guys. I’m glad you’re back.”
“I’ll bet,” Larabee moaned sarcastically under his breath as Wilmington came down to meet them. I’m not going to make that table—he was adamant.
“The boys are back,” he shouted over his shoulder into the dark shadows of the cave. Buck’s announcement brought Jackson and Sanchez from inside and JD from the path leading to the beach. Vin was still out there looking.
Standish lagged behind Chris wanting to put off this reunion for as long as possible. A few more minutes and his head may not pound quite so intensely. If he didn’t have to put thoughts to voice, then perhaps he could convince everyone he was fine. If Larabee didn’t keep stopping so suddenly he wouldn’t keep crashing into the back of him and, if it the sun would condescend to set hours earlier than usual he wouldn’t need to shield his over-sensitive eyes. If it was dark, he could trip and stumble and no one would notice.
“Buck…doesn’t look like there’s been much progress on the table.” Chris attempted to divert attention away from them, wanting to stall for time, but it was fast running out. Wilmington grimaced slightly at the reference to the table, but it never once drew his attention away from the two stragglers. The look of shock that registered on Buck’s face sealed their fate. Time was up.
“What the hell have you two been up to?” Hell, tension had been running high now for weeks. Had Chris and Ezra finally come to blows? He thought Chris had loosened up lately and had taken on board what they’d talked about. Chris was his oldest friend, but he wouldn’t standby and watch his friends beat the shit out of one another. He edged closer, gripping Standish by the elbow and drawing him out from behind Chris. It didn’t look as bad as he initially thought, but Standish had definitely had his bell rung.
“Ain’t what you’re thinking, Buck,” Larabee automatically protested. He could read Buck’s thoughts clearly; he wondered if Ezra could see how protective Wilmington was becoming.
Wilmington pressed a hand to Chris’ chest, effectively separating the pair. “You want to explain what’s been going on, buddy?” he asked quietly, but the menace in his tone was evident.
Ezra moaned, brushed past them claiming it was nothing serious, but sank gratefully into a collapsible chair. He closed his eyes and attempted to ignore them.
Nathan made the distance from the cave to the chair in double-time and immediately began assessing Standish’s injuries. He tilted back Ezra’s head and frowned. “How’d you get this?” he asked abruptly. The cut wasn’t deep, but the bruising around it was beginning to color. He gently prodded the swollen area.
Chris pushed past Buck. “He slid off the top of the waterfall—”
“That’s a sixty foot drop,” Nathan retorted. Nobody would survive that.
“Well it’s lucky for him he decided to hang onto some vines.”
“You fell off the cliff?” JD asked, clearly astounded.
“It was slippery,” Ezra defended. And he hadn’t been paying sufficient attention.
Josiah closed in on Ezra. He directed his question to Chris, but kept his eyes on Standish. “You pull him back up?”
Ezra snorted—did he really do that? Good Lord, he’d been hanging around these Neanderthals for too long. “We,” he paused for effect, “climbed down.”
“He had his leg caught…I had to cut it free,” Chris responded to the probing looks thrown his direction. “Just repaying the favor,” he added for Ezra’s benefit.
Wilmington saw the spark of respect that collected in the Southerner’s eyes and couldn’t help wondering what had put it there. Something important had happened between them and he’d dearly like to understand. “That implies that Ezra had already done you a favor, buddy.” Who was going to spill the rest of it?
“I’m guessing Ezra pulled Chris out of a bog hole,” Vin announced. He stood there, hands thrust at the waistband of his cutoffs and a pair of deck shoes, tied by the laces, swung over one shoulder. He glanced first at Larabee and then Standish—neither one denied his claim.
“Quicksand? That right?” Buck asked. At Chris’ nonchalant shrug, he swore. “They yours?” He pointed at the shoes Tanner was carrying and down at Larabee’s bare feet.
“Looks like.” At least he’d gotten his shoes back.
Nathan stood there stunned. Larabee was in quicksand, Standish fell off a cliff—didn’t either of these idiots know how dangerous that was? Why were they so calm and unaffected?
“Cool! Ezra rescued Chris from quicksand and then Chris saved Ezra at the waterfall,” JD enthused. “Wish I’d been there.”
“They might have killed you if you had been, JD,” Vin explained. He’d seen the evidence. It hadn’t been as simple as one friend saving another and repaying the debt—there’d been a lot of anger involved too. It’d been obvious in the singular tracks that led away from the pit of quicksand and the terse set that had followed. He figured it wasn’t until they’d reached ground at the watering hole that tempers begun to cool.
“I don’t kill kids,” Larabee responded. “How about you, Ezra?”
Standish sat straighter in the chair. “Good Lord, no.”
“There you go.” Chris smirked…he knew they were all thinking that both of them could easily have killed the other, but they would have been wrong. “Nathan…don’t you think Ezra should by lying down?” He wanted the inquisition to be over.
“Yeah…” Jackson was sure that there was more to tell and he wanted to hear the rest. Perhaps if he got Ezra settled then the Southerner would let something slip. “Good idea…come on.”
“Does that mean I get to use the sun lounge?” Ezra asked impishly.
“Only if you behave,” Josiah answered for Nathan.
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