“You did what?” Emma pushed her plate aside and gave James her full attention. He sat across the table, gulping OJ and squirting lime juice onto a 1-inch-high stack of sugared crepes.
“It’s a new thing,” he said around his next forkful. He waved the utensil at her, grinning chipmunk-cheeked. “You said you were bored. That everything was routine and same old same old. You wanted to mix things up.”
Emma hugged her pajama-clad knees. It was true. Life had lost its zest in the past few months. It was running too smoothly, the days passing by in that indistinguishable blur she hated so much. Still. “I just wish you’d asked me first.”
James chugged another third of his OJ and wiped his lips. He smirked at her. “No you don’t.” He laughed at the expression on her face. “Don’t get your hackles up. Answer me this: Are you still bored? Still stuck in the same old same old? Or do you feel off-kilter? Stunned? Astonished? I’ve given you a bit of chaos, tossed a spoon in the blender. You love me for it. Admit it.”
Emma bit her lip, she glared at him. He grinned back. She fought hard, trying to keep her mouth down-turned and severe but she couldn’t hold out. “Oh all right!” she huffed, smiling. “When do we leave?”
Three weeks later they boarded a sailboat in the Caribbean. To Emma it felt like entering a waking dream, one full of small joys and unexpected surprises. The days felt wide-open. Anything could happen. They went snorkeling multiple times a day. They glimpsed a nurse shark with a puckered mouth and pale eyes. They ate pan-seared fish, flaky and delicious. Even the tepid lemonade became a world of pleasure beyond anything she’d experienced before.
On the fourth night they sat with their legs over the sides of the yacht. They watched waves glitter and flash like a pot of ink in the moonlight. Emma rested her head on James’ shoulder, sniffing the salt and sunscreen on his skin. She kissed the bony end of his clavicle. “This has been lovely,” she murmured.
“Yeah,” he grinned, turning his head to bury his nose in her hair. “I almost regret getting the upgraded packet.”
“What do you mean?”
James paused and ran a hand through his hair. He glanced around, then lowered his voice. “Have you noticed that the crew are acting a bit weird?”
No, she hadn’t. “Weird how?”
“Well, Miguel kept pressing us to eat more, as if it might be our last good meal in a while. And I caught Yefrey with his hand in my pack.”
A chill went down Emma’s spine. “Did he steal something?”
“No, I checked. He wasn’t taking anything out, he was putting something in. A gift, he said, for our travels. Guess what it was? Matches, rehydration powder, iodine, and a coil of rope.”
Emma shivered, not from fear but delight. She’d always loved a good intrigue. What could it mean?
A clink of glass and a soft step alerted them to Miguel’s approach. He smiled at them and held out a tray with two glasses of wine, rattling a bit. “For you,” he said.
“Aw thanks,” Emma took both glasses. She grinned and handed James his glass. He swirled it around with a rueful smile. Then he clinked it to hers. “To us,” he said. Then he lifted the glass towards Miguel and gave a little nod. “Thank you.”
She woke to the sun baking down on her, an itch clawing up her calves, and the sound of surf. It took a moment to sink in. When it did, she sat bolt upright and clapped her hands over her mouth. She lay on a beach, soaking wet, hair stringy with salt-water. Sand crusted her clothes. Bits of debris lay around her: a lifejacket, broken pieces of wood painted white and blue like the hull of the yacht. Had they been shipwrecked? But how? When? She didn't remember anything, no storm, no wild waves, nothing but crawling sleepily into bed on the yacht.
Emma groaned and rubbed her eyes and squinted at a shape further down the beach. It was James’ backpack. Emma gasped and jumped to her feet. She rushed to the backpack and pulled it further from the surf. Then she clasped her hands in her hair. Where was James? She had to find him. He had to be okay. She pivoted, scanning her surroundings. The beach curved inward on both sides of her. Far to the left, half-hidden by the glancing sunlight, lay a body.
She ran, stumbling in the sand, her heart on her tongue. Her voice seemed to have fled. She couldn’t speak until she had collapsed at his side, and then only in a weak rasp. “James!” She shook him violently.
He blinked, squinting up. Then he saw her, really saw her. He inhaled, eyes wide, expression suddenly fierce, protective, and frightened. He threw his arms around her and yanked her tight to his chest. They held each other, taking rough, unsteady breaths. “If you’re hurt I’ll never forgive myself.”
Emma sat back on her heels, swiping tears from her eyes. “I’m not. Are you?”
James moved his arms and legs. He shook his head.
“I was so scared when I saw you. I thought you were dead.”
James got to his knees and folded her into his arms. “I’m sorry.”
“What happened? Did the boat go down? I don’t remember anything.”
“You're not going mad,” James kissed her on the lips. “It was the wine. Sleeping pills I bet."
“They drugged us?” Emma pushed her sodden hair over her ears, anger forming a fist in her chest. "Why?"
“I signed us up for the adventure package,” said James. He peered past her, assessing the beach and the coconut trees, then gave her a sheepish grin. “It was on sale.”
She stared at him, lips parted. “You knew this was going to happen?”
“No,” James laughed and ran his hands through his hair, grimacing at the sand that clotted his locks. “Not this exactly. Getting shipwrecked and marooned was only one of the possibilities. Want to walk for a bit? I’m getting stiff.”
Emma decided to take things in stride. “Sure. I found your pack, it’s over there.”
“Good, let’s see if we can find yours plus anything else of use.”
They beat sand from their clothes, then tromped along the water’s edge holding hands. Waves licked their feet. The sun shone down on them and wind ruffled through the palm fronds up the beach.
“What happens now?” Emma asked. "Are we going to make a raft out of coconuts and brave the open seas?"
James grinned. "Nah. We spend a few days getting to know the island, living off our supplies and pooping in the bush.”
"Will they rescue us?"
"They assured me we'd make our flight back home."
“This is crazy,” said Emma. She laughed and squeezed James’ hand.
Every now and then they stopped to poke at a bit of wreckage. She found a gallon jug of water, the cap still sealed. James nearly stepped on a shard of mirror and an empty 2-liter still smelling of Fanta Naranja. They found her pack half-buried in sand and draped in seaweed.
They dragged all their things into a pile, then stripped and went for a swim. Afterwards they chugged water and snacked on a couple granola bars they found in her pack.
The sun blazed down on them, baking their skin. “Slather up,” said James, tossing her a bottle of sunscreen. Then he hooted and pulled something out of the side pocket of his backpack. “Looks like Yefrey gave me some fishing line and a hook!”
Emma assessed the nearest coconut tree. “I can shimmy up there and get us some fruit.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Then we should build a shelter.”
“And swim some more.”
“And find fresh water.”
“Or make a solar water distiller from the pop bottle.”
They grinned at each other. “This is going to be the best vacation ever.”