Kyle was laughing as we trudged through the waves onto the beach, where we collapsed onto the pure white sand. He seemed pleased, but I was coughing up sea water. Gross.
"I can't believe that worked!"
"I'm still not sure what 'that' was," I said, glaring at Kyle. It was hard to stay mad at a guy whose hair had been turned into a ridiculously frizzy halo by sea water, but I managed somehow.
"You're mad at me? I just saved your life!"
"Well, you know, aside from being thrown into the brig with a madman, and then being tossed into shark-infested waters where you almost drown until someone cuts you loose at the very last second, and then spending several hours floating on a plank that fell into the ocean by chance, and nearly falling off said plank from exhaustion, yeah, it was a great plan."
Kyle stared at me incredulously.
"It was a great plan, actually. You're alive, aren't you? Also? There were no sharks."
"I felt one brush my leg!"
"You were imaging that, then. If a shark had brushed your leg then it probably would have bit it too, eventually. There were no sharks."
"Well there could have been!" I shouted. I knew I was being a bit of a baby, but I was scared and confused.
"Look, listen... everything that just happened was a part of my plan. Except your imaginary sharks. I mean, there could have been some, but we got lucky on that part. It was a calculated risk. I also took a risk that the crew would be too distracted by the next part of my plan to shoot at us. And hey, that worked out, too. So you going to the brig, me attempting to rescue you only to be caught, my brother slipping a knife into your boot-"
"Yeah, the little guy with dark hair who grabbed at your legs? He's the one who put the knife in your boot so I could cut us loose when we hit the water. That was planned too. He also threw that plank in the sea while no one was looking so we'd have something to hang on to as we made our getaway. That wasn't chance, that was my doing. And I had it carefully calculated so that we'd be thrown off near these islands, close enough that we could get to them safely. Are you seeing a pattern here?"
"I don't believe you. I mean. Maybe I believe you. I don't know. Why the hell did you rat on me to Cartman?"
"I told him I'd keep an eye on you," mumbled Kyle, looking slightly embarrassed.
"So you weren't really his slave, or whatever?"
"Oh, no I was! It's just that he said he'd kill my brother if I didn't cooperate. So, you know, I didn't want that to happen."
"What about... um, last night? Was that part of the plan, too? Or was that just a ruse to distract me?"
"Has it occurred to you that I might actually like you, Stan?"
I ran my hands through the sand and thought about what Kyle had said for a moment. He seemed sincere, and it wasn't like there was any reason for him to trick me again. He was as stuck as I was, and there was nothing that I had that he could possibly want. Funny how he had been the mistrustful one in the beginning, and now I was the one having a hard time believing him.
"So... ok... Why would you put yourself at risk, then? I mean, you didn't have to get thrown overboard, too, even if you do like me."
"Would you have wanted to stay on that ship?" Kyle asked.
"Under your circumstances? I guess not. But what about your brother?"
"Don't worry about him," Kyle said, smirking, "He's working on the second part of the plan as we speak."
"Which is what, exactly?"
"Don't worry about it."
I sighed angrily, but decided not to press the issue. Especially not when Kyle was pressing me down to the sand, and running his hands across my chest. He looked apologetic. I wanted to stay angry at him, but that seemed counterproductive since what I really wanted was for him to keep touching me the way he was.
"So, you know... We're on a deserted island and all... I suppose we'll have to make our own entertainment," he said.
I heard a rumble of thunder from a distant storm, and silently told God to shut up. I was tired of doing the right thing.
We watched the sun set over the ocean, and the next day we watched it rise again from the other side of the island. We spent a good part of the day exploring. The island was probably a few miles around: small enough to navigate in one day, and the center of it was covered by a thick jungle that would probably yield plenty of resources if we had to spend a decent length of time on the island. There was a small pool of fresh water toward the middle of the island, and though the water was somewhat stagnant and a bit brackish, it was still potable. The clouds of mosquitoes that surrounded it were less welcoming, however. There were plenty of coconut palms which could supply food and something to drink (though I hated coconut milk with a passion), and we'd heard plenty of animals rustling in the bushes. I wasn't much of a hunter so catching them might be a challenge, but at least they were there if we were in dire straits.
I was enjoying myself more and more as the afternoon went on, but Kyle was beginning to look a bit wilted, so I decided we should take a rest by the shore.
"I could get used to this," I said, "I always did enjoy nature."
"Ugh, not me," said Kyle, "Despite the fact that I left my home to avoid the inevitable office job, sometimes wonder if I'm not missing something. The ability to bathe in fresh water, for example. I definitely miss that. And eating at fine restaurants, and dressing in a nicely tailored suit, and not having to worry about sunburns. I miss those things."
"So if we ever get off this island, is that what you're going to do? Go back to New York or wherever and settle down?"
"First off, it's not if we get off this island, but when. I told you, there's a plan. And no. I probably won't go back to New York. I don't want the life my parents set up for me. I don't know what I'll do, actually, but if I ever have to board a ship with the likes of Cartman again, well, those imaginary sharks will look pretty promising."
"Well, assuming we survive this, I guess you should just think of something you like, and try to make a career out of that? I mean, assuming your adventuring days are over."
"Well," said Kyle, "Who says my adventuring days are over? And why should having a more respectable career mean settling down? What would you do, in my situation?"
"I'm not in your situation, though," I replied, lying back against the sand.
"Well, you kind of are, at least at the moment," Kyle said, sprawling down next to me.
"I guess so. But I don't want to stop what I'm doing. Not really. I still want to travel, and see more of the world. If I had stayed at home I'd be running an orange farm or something by now, and that's just boring. We could... I don't know... we could try and find something to do together, you know."
"Hmmm," Kyle said, closing his eyes.
We laid in silence for a while, enjoying the warmth of the sun against our skin and the sound of the waves rolling in. I wondered what Kyle was thinking.
"Well, so what do we do now?" I asked.
"I suppose we should build some kind of shelter, and figure out a way to get food," Kyle said, "At least until our rescue comes."
"If it comes. How long do you think that will be? You haven't exactly been forthcoming on this whole plan of yours."
"Honestly, I have no idea. There's a whole chain of events that need to take place for us to get out of here. If anything goes wrong, well, we might be here a while."
I sighed and got to my feet. "Well, in that case I'll go see what I can round up."
The only tool I had was the knife that Kyle had carried with him, but it was good enough to cut down some palm branches and vines with which to tie them together. The shelter I built with them wasn't the sturdiest residence I'd ever had, but it was good enough for the night, at least. I could improve it in the morning, if I needed to. I managed to start a fire with sticks the way my uncle had taught me in my youth, and though most of the materials we burned were still green, I figured the fire was probably steady enough to burn at least through the night. Kyle sat nearby the entire time I was doing all of this, and he didn't even offer to help, but I didn't mind. He looked slightly disturbed.
"What's wrong?" I asked as I was finishing up.
"Oh. Nothing," he said.
"Nothing always means something. What is it?"
"I'm, like, retroactively upset about being in the water, I think. I was kind of terrified of that part, but I pushed it to the back of my mind since it was necessary."
"What, you were worried that we'd miss the island or something?"
He laughed under his breath. "No, I'm afraid of the water, actually."
I stared at him, confused. "Why the hell would you decide to be a sailor if you're afraid of water?"
"I didn't used to be," he said, "Only since, um, the whole keel-hauling thing. I don't know, I wasn't thinking about it while we were trying to get away, but now I can't stop thinking about it. We could have drowned."
"We didn't though."
"Stan, don't you have any phobias? It's not as simple as 'We didn't.'"
"I'm sorry," I said, sitting down next to him, "How can I help?"
He sat silently for a moment, staring at his feet. Then he looked at me, and I was amazed at the openness in his eyes.
"Would you just hold me?" he asked, "I just need to feel safe, I think."
"Of course," I said, wrapping my arms around him. I pulled him onto my lap, and together we watched the sun go down. I could feel him growing more relaxed against me, and for that I was glad.
"Home sweet home," he said quietly.
After a week I had become resigned to a life on the island. Though Kyle still seemed sure that someone was going to come rescue us, I wasn't convinced. We hadn't seen a single ship in that time, despite the fact that the dark black smoke from our perpetually burning camp fire would be visible for hundreds of miles. It was all fun and games at first. It was hard to be upset when the ocean air smelled so fresh, and the sun felt so good against my skin. But I felt unsettled anyway. The idea of surviving there long-term weighed heavily on my mind. I set about improving our little shelter, making it sturdier and more waterproof, and hoped that we wouldn't need it for much longer.
After a month, I began to settle into a routine. In the morning I would go check the fish traps I'd built, and haul in whatever catches I'd made. I couldn't really cook to save my life, but thankfully Kyle was a much better cook than me, so I'd leave the fish for him to clean with our only knife, and after that they'd either be cooked straightaway, or dried out for our emergency food supply. Dried fish is disgusting, by the way, but it got us through the days on which my traps yielded no return.
After checking the traps, I would walk out to the pond with the glass jug we found half-buried in the sand, fill it up, and bring it back home. Disgusting though the murky water was, it was essential to our survival, and we were both grateful to have it. We tried to filter out the mosquito larvae with a scrap of cloth I'd torn from my shirt, but it was still pretty foul. Still better than coconut milk though, as far as I was concerned.
After the morning chores were complete, we were free to do as we pleased. Sometimes we'd head into the jungle to see if we could find more interesting things to eat. I enjoyed creating paths through the trees for Kyle to walk though, because pushing through the dense understory wasn't his favorite thing to do, but I could tell he wanted to spend time with me.
Sometimes I'd go for a swim, with Kyle watching me from the beach. Slowly he grew more and more comfortable with being in the water, and eventually joined me, although he never ventured far from the shore. His fear of sharks seemed to diminish as well, but as soon as I warned him about stingrays he refused to get into the water again, even after I showed him how to do the stingray shuffle. I guess some people just aren't cut out for dealing with nature. He seemed content enough to watch me swim, though.
I have to admit that the majority of our spare time was spent fooling around with each other. Kyle usually kept his overlarge shirt on to protect his skin, but he seldom bothered with his canvas shorts anymore. I usually opted to walk around completely naked, since we were free from any prying eyes. Anyway, I like being naked. Kyle seemed to approve of my decision, and as the sun baked my skin to a nice bronze color, he seemed unable to keep his hands to himself. Not that I minded.
Two months passed by quickly, and I was beginning to grow anxious once more. Part of me didn't want things to ever change. There was something to be said for spending one's life loitering on a warm tropical beach, gorging on seafood and spending the afternoons enjoying the intimate company of another person.
But as time wore on and the summer storms began to increase, I started to worry about the possibility of a hurricane hitting the island. Our little shelter was fine for keeping us relatively dry during the afternoon thunderstorms, but a major storm would easily blow it away, and probably us with it.
To top it all off, Kyle's attitude was becoming troubling. He'd become more withdrawn, and had stopped eating as much as he normally did. He'd lost interest in everything, and spent most of his time sitting by the shelter, staring into the ocean.
"Are you alright?" I asked him one night, in the safety of our hut. Kyle was lying on his belly on the sand, looking particularly despondent.
"Not really, no," he answered, not even bothering to look at me.
"I'm starting to wonder if this big rescue I orchestrated is ever going to happen."
"I've been wondering that myself," I said, sitting next to him. I reached over and started to rub Kyle's back. "But I'm pretty happy here for now, aren't you?"
I pulled my hand away and sat stock still, feeling as though I'd been struck. I wasn't just happy on the island because I was managing to keep us alive; I was happy because I liked being with Kyle so much, and not having to worry about hiding what we were doing. I'd come to cherish his company, and was starting to feel as though I wanted to spend the rest of my life close to the other man, in whatever form that might take.
Kyle looked back at me over his shoulder, and though I tried not to look as upset as I felt he saw right through me.
"Hey," he said, reaching for my hand, "I didn't mean because of you. I'm so happy that I get to spend this time with you, and we don't have to worry about what anyone else thinks. It's great. But I feel like I've failed something. If no one comes for us, that's my fault. And I'm so bored, Stan. I need to do things more mentally stimulating than slicing up dead fish, you know?"
"Anything I can do to help?" I asked, still feeling slightly wounded.
"Not unless you've been hiding an entire library from me this whole time."
"Shoot, I left that in my other trousers."
Kyle smiled and swatted at me. He turned over in the sand to lay against my chest, and I wrapped my arms around him, feeling slightly mollified.
"I just hope that we'll get out of here pretty soon. We'll be in trouble if a big storm heads our way," he said, echoing the thoughts that had been cycling through my head for weeks. "I don't want to drown in a storm surge, personally."
"Well this is an uplifting conversation," I said, not wanting to worry about it for once.
"Yeah, well, just something we need to consider."
I sighed as we settled in for another mosquito-filled night.
I awoke with the sun the next morning, and went out to the edge of the jungle to relieve myself. When I was finished I turned and walked blearily back toward the hut. I was stopped short in my tracks when I noticed two ships anchored offshore. One was the Sloop John B and the other was a larger ship whose name I couldn't see. There were men on the deck of each ship, and they looked as though they were going to come ashore any minute.
"Um," I said intelligently, and ran back into the hut to rouse Kyle and make myself decent.
"Jesus, Kyle, wake up. I think we're in trouble!" I said, shaking Kyle's shoulder.
"Whassaa?" Kyle mumbled, turning over toward me. I ignored the way his shirt had ridden up around his chest in his sleep.
"The Sloop John B is offshore, as well as another ship," I explained, pulling my trousers on.
"Oh! Excellent!" Kyle exclaimed, suddenly looking awake. He pulled his canvas shorts toward him and began to put them on.
"Excellent?" I asked, "Uh, I don't know if you remember the Captain of that ship trying to kill us or anything, but that's not really what I'd call 'excellent'."
"If they've found us then he won't be a problem for us anymore, anyway."
"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked, confounded.
"You'll see," Kyle replied, dashing out of the shelter.