Though Kyle tried to reassure me that everything was ok, I watched the men come ashore with trepidation. What if it was some kind of trick? But when I suggested that to him he rolled his eyes and began to rant about his plan coming to fruition, etc.
I guess he was right, though. Christophe trudged through the surf looking much cleaner and healthier than he'd been when I last saw him, and Ike came running after him, bounding toward Kyle and practically knocking him over with a hug. I suppose I could be excused for not realizing they were brothers, since they looked nothing alike.
An uppity-looking blonde man accompanied them, and he smiled haughtily as he introduced himself as Gregory. I'm not sure if I was supposed to be impressed, but I think he was impressed enough with himself for the both of us.
Kyle and I stood idly by as he and Christophe examined our little home.
"Shall we tear it down, darling?" Gregory asked Christophe. Darling, huh?
I kind of objected to them destroying the crappy little hut I'd built, but mostly I was just confused. What was the point? I watched as they ripped it apart, and destroyed my fish traps as well. Two months' work, down the drain. I supposed it didn't matter at that point, though.
Their purpose became clear to me when I noticed a person I'd overlooked in the boat they'd brought onshore. Cartman was hogtied on the bottom of it, struggling against his bonds. He looked like shit.
"Well, this is where we say goodbye," Christophe said, hauling him out and onto the sand. Kyle whooped with glee as he noticed what was about to happen, and the glare he earned from Cartman would have been impressive if the circumstances had been different.
"So, welcome to your new home," Christophe said shoving him into the sand, "I'd leave you in the brig to rot like you did to me, but I think this is more fun. Maybe you'll get lucky and survive. Maybe not. I don't give a shit."
Cartman's protests were muffled by the gag in his mouth, and as Ike ushered Kyle and I toward the boat, I wondered if anyone was going to bother to untie him before marooning him.
I felt kind of bad leaving him there like that, because apparently that's the kind of person I am, but everyone else was smiling and waving goodbye to him. Kyle even blew him a kiss.
We soon found ourselves on the deck of the Justice which I wasn't entirely happy about... I mean, yeah, we could have starved on that island, or been bit by poisonous snakes, or stung by jellyfish or... well, anything really, but it was clean and warm, and it was ours. I had forgotten how bad ships smell most of the time, and how crowded it feels with so many people all stuck together in the same place. I'd wanted so badly to be rescued, and now that I was I wasn't sure I liked it.
Kyle was nervous about going aboard the Sloop John B. again ("Phobias, Stan, I can't just shut it off!") so Gregory he gave us another closet-sized room on his ship, which was admittedly much nicer than the one we'd had on the Sloop John B. This one had a window. Wow.
We stood on the deck holding hands as we watched our little island disappear over the horizon. Until we got too far away, we could still see Cartman all trussed up on the beach struggling to get free, but other than that it looked as pristine as ever. I was sad, but I knew Kyle was happy about the prospect of eating something other than fish, at least.
The Justice and Sloop John B. set off together in tandem, charting a northerly course, and stopping here and there to run various errands. I was told not to worry about their responsibilities, so I didn't.
I did offer to help out on the ship, but was turned down once again, so Kyle and I were once again free to do as we pleased. After having been alone on our island for so long, we opted to stay in our cabin most of the time, enjoying each other's company. And it was fun, but I started to worry about damn near everything. I guess when my only concern was survival, I'd put all those other concerns on the shelf, and now that we had to adjust to the real world again, everything seemed much more complicated than it had before.
I'd had a problem with drinking when I was younger, and now, faced with more problems, I took solace in it again. And that only made me feel worse. There were a few days when I didn't leave our room, laying like a lump on our bed, trying not to think. It didn't take long for Kyle to sense something was wrong, but he'd have to be blind to miss it. I brushed him off the first few times he asked, claiming I was just tired, but he wouldn't drop it.
"What's going on with you?" he asked one night. He was pressed against my side, warm and naked, and I didn't really want to ruin the moment, but I knew he'd get mad if I refused to talk about it again. He wasn't really known for his patience.
"I don't know," I lied, "I guess I miss the island. And I'm... worried."
"About what?" he asked, tracing shapes on my chest.
"...Why?" I could see the apprehension in his eyes.
"I guess I'm afraid of things changing between us now that we're headed back to civilization. Do you still want me? Will we be able to be together without people coming after us? What should we do for jobs? For a home? I worry about all these things. I just- I want to be with you. That's what matters. And I'm trying to figure out how to make that work, or if that's even what you want, too."
I realized I was being stupid when I saw the look on his face. He leaned over me and pressed a kiss to my lips.
"You know I love you, don't you?" he asked, and I felt my eyes water.
"Of course I do, stupid," he said.
"Oh," I said laughing against his lips, "Well, yeah. I love you too. Obviously. But, I mean... what about the rest?"
He shrugged. "The rest will work itself out somehow."
And, well, he was right.
After our various stops along the islands leading north, Christophe and Gregory dropped us off in Key West, where we were allowed to stay in someone's borrowed house "for as long as we liked". I think Christophe's departure was more difficult for Kyle than he let on, especially because his brother Ike opted to stay on board the ship. I'd never been close to my sister, so in some weird way I was sort of jealous of how upset the two of them were saying goodbye to each other. I hoped some day they'd somehow find each other again, but there was no way of knowing if that would happen. But they both wanted different things out of life, so that was the way it had to be. Ike said he'd probably stop in New York once in a while to visit their parents, so there was that, at least. Still, Kyle was upset, which in turn upset me further.
So there we were, both sad and worried, with no solace but each other's company. I promised him I wouldn't drink again, if he'd confide in me when he felt he needed to. It worked out better than I'd expected, actually. We kept each other honest.
After a few weeks we both began to feel better, and then Kyle completely surprised me by saying he wanted to go home. By which he meant New York. That was pretty much the last place I'd have expected him to want to go, but he said he had a plan. I was getting pretty sick of Kyle's secret plans, but I went along with it anyway. I mean, it wasn't like I had anything better to do. We had some money Christophe had left us that would cover the trip, and so we boarded a ship to New York.
As nervous as I was, I was excited too. The farthest north I'd ever been was St. Augustine, so going to New York was akin to visiting an alien planet.
Things I hadn't been prepared for: The cold, and the stench. The cold I could handle, though it was something I was unused to. As I said before, I like being naked, so having to wear such thick clothing all the time was uncomfortable to me.
The stench, however... It hadn't really occurred to me that such a "great" city would have piles and piles of horse shit everywhere. And yet, despite that, everyone was dressed in what I'd consider fancy clothing. The ladies' long skirts were brown on the bottoms, and so were many of the mens' trousers. It didn't make a damn bit of sense to me. Kyle had insisted we buy proper clothes before visiting his parents, and I thought it was a shame that the finest suit I'd ever worn was going to be ruined by the muck pretty damn quickly. Still, it made him happy to see me look "like a gentleman", even though I felt kind of ridiculous. But once we got to his parents' house, I was glad he'd dolled me up.
He'd claimed it was just a modest home, nothing fancy. When we entered the huge townhome, I wasn't sure if he'd lied or if that's how it really seemed to him. It made the house I grew up in look like a god damn shack. ....Which it sort of was, but that isn't the point.
They had a butler. AND a maid! I began to worry about how I might provide for the two of us if this was what Kyle considered modest. We were ushered in and sent to the parlor, where I sat nervously on a velveteen chair, and Kyle examined his father's bookcases.
"Hmm, he's got a lot of new books," he said, apropos of nothing.
"What are we doing here?" I asked, feeling uncomfortable in such a nice setting. He seemed perfectly at home among the crystal chandeliers and finely carved furniture... which I guess he was.
"Maybe I just want you to meet my parents," he said, still browsing through the bookcase.
"What, so I can ask for your hand in marriage like a proper gentleman?"
He turned and smiled at me, and then sat in the chair next to me.
"Don't worry about it," he said. I was left in the dark once more.
His parents soon joined us, sitting across from us and offering us tea. I was afraid I'd break the china cup and saucer. They were both eying me curiously, but no one said anything outside of the normal pleasantries until we were finished with our tea. Finally Kyle spoke up. Apparently he had a business proposition. And apparently I was his "business partner".
"You have connections at the Daily Tribune don't you?" he asked his father. He wasn't at all what I was expecting, although all I really knew about him was he was a lawyer... who wanted to be a dolphin.
"I do, why?" he asked, still eying me. I wondered how much he knew about Kyle's... interests.
"I want to be a journalist. More specifically, I'd like to travel the world, and send back reports to be published. Stan here is a good writer, and you know I am as well, and I think together we could make a living from it. But we need an in at a respectable publication. By which I mean one that will pay us enough to actually do it."
"You just got home, and you're already thinking of going back to sea?" his mother asked from the sofa upon which she sat. She was a plump, but severe-looking woman. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was a bit afraid of her.
"It's what I want to do, Ma. I like traveling; I just don't want to work on a ship anymore. And there's so much of the world I'd like to explore. Don't you think it's a good idea?"
She made an indignant sound. "A good idea would be settling down. You should find a nice Jewish woman to marry and have some children. That's what I think."
Kyle laughed. "I'm not really the marrying type, you know."
She sighed heavily. "Well what about your brother?"
"I don't want to marry him," Kyle said.
"You know what your mother means, young man," his father cut in. I was beginning to see why he left in the first place.
"What? He's still working on a ship somewhere in the Caribbean. He's with a friend of mine. He's fine."
His father shook his head, and then looked at his mother. The sense of their disapproval felt oppressive.
"We tried to raise you boys to do the right thing, and then you both run away from any kind of responsibility. What did we do wrong? Were we not good enough for you boys?"
"Oh, here we go. The dreaded guilt trip," Kyle said.
"Kyle!" his mother squawked.
"We only want what's best for you and your brother," his father said calmly.
"Why don't you let us decide what that is?" Kyle said, clearly getting upset, "Getting married and having a 'proper' career might be what you consider best, but I wouldn't be happy doing that. Isn't that what matters more? Would you rather me have a respectable job and a wife and kids and be completely miserable, or have a life that people might consider unconventional, but makes me happy?"
"I don't know, Kyle," his mother said.
"Listen," he appealed, "If we work for the newspaper I'll have to come back to New York periodically to hand in my reports, right? If I have a reason to come back here, you guys will get to see me when I do, and you can harass me to your heart's content about my lifestyle choices. If I don't have a reason to come back, well... I suppose I can just go back to sea and work on a pirate ship again. I'm trying to do the right thing, but I want to be happy. Don't you want me to be happy?"
His parents gave each other a look, and then dismissed us, apparently wanting to discuss it between the two of them. I was unsure of myself, but Kyle seemed pretty confident.
"They'll definitely help us out," he said, leading me to his room. I wasn't allowed to sleep in there while we were visiting, but apparently he figured spending time in there during the day would go unnoticed.
"What makes you think so?" I asked, sitting on his plush bed. The bedspread was smooth and soft under my hands. I wondered how he'd ever survived on a ship if this was what he was used to.
"Oh two can play at the guilt trip. My mom's a master, but I'm good at it, too. 'Don't you want me to be happy?!!!' That always works."
I laughed, and pulled him onto my lap. "So that was all just a ruse?"
"Not at all," he said, framing my face with his hands, "I meant what I said. It's just how you say it that makes a difference."
"I'm pretty impressed with your manipulation skills."
He pushed me onto my back. "You should be."
Turns out he was right. After a day or two of mulling it over (and giving Kyle and I suspicious looks the whole time) his father pulled us into his parlor one evening and introduced us to his friend from the newspaper. It was all downhill from there. Kyle turned on the charm, and convinced this man to give us the position of Corresponding Adventurers, or something like that. Contracts made and signed, and we had our futures all set up, just the way Kyle intended.
So we set out for our new life together, seeing the world and occasionally stopping "home" to say hello. We saw so many places I'd never even heard of, from the deserts of Africa to the icy wilderness of the arctic tundra. Along the way we met new people, experiencing new cultures and trying new foods. I guess our readers enjoyed our tales well enough, because every time we'd head back to New York our editors would immediately send us out again on a new assignment. It was fun being able to see the world in ways that most people never got to experience, and of course having Kyle with me the whole time made it even better. So yeah, I guess our adventuring days never really ended.
Eventually we made enough money to build a tiny little house on an island in the tropics where we could stay between assignments, away from prying eyes. And, well, we were happy.
I could go into some philosophical rant about how you never know what life will bring you, and how the worst situations can turn into something amazing, or something about destiny, or something, but frankly I don't believe in that kind of thing anymore. I just got lucky. Really lucky.
Sometimes I have these nightmares about being back on the Sloop John B. Sometimes Kyle is tortured to death in front of me. Sometimes the sharks really are waiting under the ship to get us as we're pushed overboard. And sometimes we're on our island, drowning in the storm surge as a hurricane blows in. But when I wake up, Kyle is still by my side, and I remember that I'm safe, and I'm with the person that I love.