Chris had just drifted into sleep when the dull thump returned to torment his lower back. He took his forty-seventh deep breath of the trip, reminding himself that it was merely a child and that spinning around in his seat to shout obscenities would be heavily frowned upon by the dozing travelers surrounding him.
He stretched his back straight, yawning, and rolled his head from one side to the other, his neck cracking blissfully as he did so. Leaning into the aisle, he glanced toward the front of the plane and smiled. She was probably dead asleep and far more comfortable than he was – that is, if she wasn’t too busy smiling at Jack Volmer.
When he’d passed them on the way in, he’d laughed at the pure irony of the situation. Of all the people in the world for Alaina to be seated next to on their belated honeymoon, it had to be Jack friggin Volmer. In the early days of their relationship, she’d drooled over the man every time she’d come across a rerun of Fairview Nights on television. Oh, and once she’d stumbled upon the channel, far be it for him or anyone else to even consider touching the remote. It didn’t matter that she’d seen every episode at least a hundred times; if Jack Volmer was on tv, she had to watch him.
He tried to picture her expression when she’d sat down next to her childhood crush. Would she have had the awkward, toothy smile and nervous ramblings that no doubt would have her kicking herself for the rest of the trip? Or would she have tried to play it cool? She could’ve maybe pulled off cool before take-off, but definitely not after. In the ten years they’d been married, Alaina had never once been able to make it through a take-off without causing a scene, and he was positive any image she might’ve tried to paint of herself would’ve promptly been obliterated once she began her routine hyperventilation.
The kid behind him kicked his seat again, this time with enough force to physically cause him to lurch forward.
‘That’s it!’ He thought to himself and stood abruptly to glare down at the little pudgy boy. The kid, no more than four or five, had slid almost all the way down in his seat to allow for the length of his chubby legs to be pressed against Chris’s backrest.
The child’s parents occupied the two interior seats beside him, their heads rested against each other as they slept peacefully, unaware of the havoc their offspring was wreaking in the absence of supervision.
Chris said nothing, but stood scowling at the small boy until the child recognized the danger and straightened, his lips forming a small pout that made Chris feel a slight ping of guilt for it.
He glanced around the dark quiet of the airplane, then back down to his tiny seat, and his knees protested at the thought of returning to it so soon. Instead, he decided upon an impromptu trip to the first-class bathroom to get a glimpse of Alaina’s either blundering attempts at flirtation or sleeping situation.
He moved toward the front of the airplane with only the dim blue light that shone into the aisle from random device screens to guide him and was stopped short by a small tug at his arm.
“Sir,” whispered a woman behind him, the slightly rolled “r” instantly giving away a Latin accent. He turned to find a very pretty stewardess raising her dark brow in his direction. “The restroom in front is reserved for first-class passengers only. I am afraid I have to ask you to use the one in the back, please.”
He frowned, glancing up from her to the vacant restroom in the rear before ehe leaned down to whisper back, “There’s someone in the back and I need to go now. Besides, my wife is in first-class and I want to check on her. I’ll be quick.” He winked. “I promise.”
She tilted her head, narrowing her eyes to inspect him. Twisting her lips to one side, she shook her head disapprovingly. “Hurry up. I can’t have all these passengers thinking they can just bat their eyes at me and go up there whenever they want.”
He smiled triumphantly as she turned her attention toward a woman at her side who was ‘too chilly,’ then swayed with the plane as he slowly made his way toward his wife. He could make out her curls spilling over the side of her seat, and his heart warmed. The past few years had been hard on her. She needed this trip away from their life; away from their problems. He was determined to make it perfect for her. He couldn’t wait to see her face light up when she stepped into the over-water bungalow he’d upgraded them to.
“Will you please turn that off?” A frustrated female voice hissed to the man at her side when Chris crossed into first-class.
“Get yer hands off my display, woman!” The man retorted, smacking her hand away from his view, evidently mesmerized by the on-screen flight path.
“I can’t sleep with that on,” she whined miserably.
“Well, it sucks to be you then, don’t it? I’m watchin’ this.”
Chris smirked, and as he moved past them to stand in front of the restroom door, he noticed that Jack Volmer’s display was also turned on. Earbuds pressed into his ears, Jack was absorbed in a movie while Alaina’s head was bent awkwardly to the opposite side, her mouth wide open in a deep sleep.
‘So attractive, Ally.’ He chuckled to himself as he heard her distinctive snore, pulling the bifold door to the restroom open and glancing once more in her direction before he stepped into the brightly lit box of a bathroom.
Quietly closing the door behind him, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. ‘I’m just as good-looking as Jack Volmer.’ He assured himself. ‘Aren’t I?’ He laughed at his ridiculous insecurity, turning to face the toilet. ‘Whatever. He might have the looks, but I could definitely take him if I had to.’
The plane rocked, forcing him to seize hold of the handicap rail and the sink to catch himself just before he could fall backward to potentially bust through the door. Straightening his legs, his ears suddenly filled with a high-pitched buzz, dizzying him briefly before the ringing turned to complete silence.
He blinked at himself in the mirror and shook his head, attempting to clear his hearing, when, without warning, the plane shifted and for a fleeting moment, he was weightless – euphoric and floating freely.
Before the sensation could completely process, he was plastered to the opposing wall with such force that he was sure his bones would break beneath the pressure holding him there.
The lights flickered, creating a strobe effect that grew less and less frequent as the plane sped downward. He stared at his mortified reflection in the flashes of light, trying to rationalize what was happening while his body fought against the gravity that was cementing him against the wall.
‘Oh God, we’re crashing.’ He realized as the light stopped blinking, cloaking him in an utterly silent blackness. ‘Ally, I have to get to Alaina!’
His arms and legs seemed like lead. With all his strength, he fought to reposition himself, contorting his body down to the floor to wedge between the wall and the vanity.
“ALLY!!!!”” He cried out loud despite his lost hearing, “Please God, please, please let us be okay. Don’t do this now. Please, please don’t do this now!! ALLY!!”
Could she hear him? If he shouted loud enough, would she know he was right there, crashing just a few feet from her?
The plane shook as it picked up momentum; the velocity smashing his head against the wall. “I promise, I’ll do anything you want if you just keep her safe. Don’t take her. Not yet. Please let her be okay. Let us be okay.”
He turned himself to one side, bracing his forearms on the cabinet and the wall as he fought to position his legs in the same way, shaking with the effort of holding himself upright against the force. ‘We’re going to die… No… we can’t die. Not like this.’
“Ally!” He cried out again, still unable to hear his own voice or anything around him. “ALAINA!” He persisted, reaching up to grab the handicap rail as the plane vibrated heavily. Could he get to her? Could he crawl to her seat to look into her eyes just one last time?
He adjusted his position, turning his body ever so slightly against the pressure that was trying to force him back against the wall. ‘I can’t die like this. Please, not yet. Let me get to her. Let me see her.’
The vibration of the plane grew nearly unbearable as it picked up more speed and a feeling in his gut told him they were close to crashing. He took one last deep breath, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. Just as his body tensed for impact, the plane’s trajectory slowed, and his stomach danced with the sudden change in momentum.
Once again, an overwhelming sense of weightlessness washed over him as he floated upward. “This is it. This is how I die. I’m going to die.”
With all the air he had left in his lungs, he cried out one last time. “ALLY!”
Then his mind went as quiet as his ears, and he hovered in a blissful state of oblivion.
“Mr. Grace.” He heard Alaina whisper. “Wake up and show me how a husband kisses his wife…”
He grinned, knowing in that moment, he was safe in his bed and that she was lying beside him. Had he dreamt it all? He was sure he’d roll over and see that look in her eyes that she always had when she said those words; that look that begged him, ‘come get me.’ God, he hadn’t heard those words in so long. He’d waited so long to hear those words.
Just beyond her in the darkness, there was a steady sound, like a tide washing into a shoreline; in and out with such perfect tempo, his shoulders eased even further.
In and out… In and out… and as his mind came alive, he identified the sound as his own breath, loud in his ears. “Ally…” He reached for her but came up empty.
‘What happened?’ He wondered, unfamiliar noises accompanying the cadence of his breathing, their static growing louder and louder until it overwhelmed him.
“Ally,” he whispered, “what is that?”
‘Water… Water?’ He opened his eyes and recognized the flooding of water pouring into the bathroom and rapidly climbing up his legs.
“ALLY?!” He screamed, launching himself up off the floor to push madly at the door handle. It was jammed on its mangled track. “ALLY!!”
He curled his fingers around the edge of the door and jerked with all his strength, water hitting his knees as he bent the top half of the door open by a few inches.
In a flash of lightning through the crack, he could see a large male body at the exit door across from him. Hanging lifeless from the man’s arms was the outline of a woman and he could just make out the shape of Alaina’s coveted Renaud boots on her feet. “ALAINA!!!”
The water pooled around his waist, rising quickly, and he hurled his body into the door.
‘Was she moving? Is she alright?’
He leaned back against the sink and kicked violently over and over. The door shuddered with each blow, but the surging water made each kick less effective.
‘She has to be alive… that’s why he’s carrying her out… He wouldn’t bother if she wasn’t… she’s alive and I have to get to her.’
He inhaled deeply, turning his shoulder as he launched his full weight into the door, tumbling out into a cascade of rising water. He fought against its current and headed toward the exit, a flash of lightning revealing a raft just outside filled with bodies. “ALAINA!!!” He cried out, tears filling his eyes as his heartbeat raced.
“HELP ME!” A frantic female voice called behind him. “¡AYÚDAME! SOMEBODY! HELP ME!! I’M TRAPPED!”
He peered once more out the plane’s exit to see, in a spark of lightning, the raft wavering in the turbulent ocean. He could see people moving on its surface.
‘I have to get to Ally,’ his heart argued.
“PLEASE,” the woman begged, desperation forcing her voice to crack, “SOMEONE PLEASE HELP!”
‘Dammit. I can’t just leave someone die here.’ And despite his mind begging him to leap out the door and onto the raft, his body turned toward the voice.
“KEEP MAKING NOISE!” He ordered, hurriedly wading through the intensifying rush of water in the direction of the cry.
“I’M HERE! OVER HERE!” Her thick Spanish accent rang through on her rolled ‘R’ as he drew closer.
“WHERE?” Lightning flashed again through the open exit door and he glanced back toward the raft. She was on it. She was safe. He would get to her.
“I’M STUCK! HELP ME, I CAN’T MOVE!”
Blindly, he extended his arms forward, reaching toward the voice as the water reached his chest. The voice ahead of him was starting to choke.
His fingers curled around something solid, and her labored breathing was now loud in his ears. “I’M HERE.” He assured her, his other hand feeling around the large cart that held her pinned.
She choked and gasped while he pulled at the unmoving cart beneath the water, the chilly waves now at his throat.
“Come on!” He shouted in frustration, bracing his legs against the wall to jerk the metal, tipping his head to the ceiling for air as the water reached his ears.
He felt the cart dislodge and reached down to feel for her, locking his fingers around a petite wrist to pull her upward.
She came up with a gasping inhale, her arms splashing in a panic. “Wait! Wait!” She cried as he pulled her toward the exit. In the flickering of white lightning, he caught her reach back to where she’d been to pull something off the wall. “Go!” She urged him.
As the plane sunk more rapidly, the rushing water pushed them backward with every attempt to cross the door’s threshold. He tried once, then again, and then again, each time the influx of water shooting them back toward the restroom.
“We have to wait until the door fills.” He coughed, filling his lungs to float above the water in the few inches of air left near the ceiling. “There’s a raft out there…” His mouth sunk beneath the saltwater momentarily, “we have to get to it.”
He kept the fingers of one hand clutched tightly around the woman’s wrist while he gripped the overhead bin with the other and waited for the sound of the rushing water at the door to cease.
‘I have to get to Ally.’
As he waited, memory of the pudgy-faced boy in the seat behind him returned and he glanced back toward his seat for the first time. Another strike of lightning revealed the entire back of the plane had vanished, leaving only an endless rolling ocean spilling into the gap where it once had been. Where was the rest of the plane? Where was the little boy? His heart sank in his chest as the child’s pouting face flashed through his memory.
The stream of water at the door quieted, drawing his attention back to the task at hand.
“Take a deep breath.” He commanded the woman, “and kick your legs as hard as you can when we get on the other side. The plane will try to pull us down with it. We have to fight to get above the water. Understand?”
“Sí.” She said, inhaling loudly.
He pulled her immediately under the water, gripping the frame of the door to propel them out into the sea. He kicked his legs violently, feeling their bodies being pulled downward despite his attempts to swim to the surface.
Disregarding his implicit instructions, he felt the woman’s legs wrap around his waist. He kicked harder against the pull of the plane with the added weight of her and then was surprisingly jerked upward by the inflating of her life vest between them.
They surfaced in a collective gasp for air, both of them choking against the rolling waves that pushed them high into the storm.
He scanned the pulsing ocean around him, and as one long bright burst of lightning lit up the sky, he could see a dot of yellow far ahead of them on the tumbling surface.
“THERE!” He screamed, “The raft! It’s there!”
The woman clung to him, her arms and legs wound tightly around his upper body as she spun her head to look behind her, then forward, then back again.
“LAND!” She cried out just before a wave spilled over them, forcing them deep under the water. He wrapped his arms around her, holding onto her for dear life as he kicked his legs toward the surface.
They sputtered and spit as their heads emerged, and he searched again for the raft as the woman attempted to swim in the opposing direction.
Again, he saw the yellow of the raft moving further away from him. “WE HAVE TO GET TO THEM!” He fought against her pull to swim with the tide. “THE RAFT IS THIS WAY!”
“NO!” She pulled his face to look at her, her expression frantic in the strobing storm. “THERE IS LAND! LOOK THERE!” She turned him so that he could see a small shadowy outline of earth against the ocean’s horizon.
Another rolling wave poured over them, pushing them and holding them deep down beneath the surface. He clawed at the ocean, his legs fighting as his breath threatened to run out.
He gagged on the air when he finally was able to inhale again and she pulled him in the direction of land, straining to swim against the waves that drug them further out to sea.
“NO!” He argued, tugging her back. “MY WIFE IS ON THAT RAFT! I HAVE TO GET TO HER!”
“¡Oye! ARE YOU CRAZY?” She shrieked, “WE CAN’T CATCH THEM! WE’LL DIE. THERE IS LAND. WE HAVE TO GO THIS WAY. THEY WILL SEE IT TOO!”
“NO!” He fought to stay afloat as they rode up a swelling wall of water, his stomach rising with it to sit in his throat before they dropped back down. “I CAN’T LEAVE HER!”
“WELL, I CAN’T HELP YOU!” She snapped. “YOU WANT TO DIE OUT HERE? FINE! I WILL NOT DIE HERE WITH YOU. I AM GOING TOWARD THE LAND!”
She unwound her legs from him and moved to swim away.
With one hand on her life vest, he glanced between her and the ocean behind him.
He couldn’t risk losing Alaina. Not now. Not when they were on the verge of finally mending their broken relationship. Despite his mind’s warning against it, he let go of the woman and turned his body.
“YOU FOOL!” She shouted, panic filling her voice. “YOU WILL DIE! PLEASE DON’T DO THIS!”
Without the life vest, his body sunk down so that only his head remained above the water, and he fought against the pouring rain to breathe. “I HAVE TO!”
He began to swim, a wave pulling him in and gushing over him.
He kicked and propelled his arms violently, the pressure of the swell overpowering his body and moving him like a rag doll beneath its force. For a moment his head surfaced and he inhaled, then was pushed down again to flail helplessly.
His lungs protested for oxygen and he felt the saltwater fill them when he could hold it no longer. ‘No, please! Please! I can’t drown here! I have to see her. I have to tell her I’m sorry! Please, not yet!’
He reached up, kicking endlessly to survive, his body beginning to fatigue when he felt a hand grab hold of his to pull him back to the surface.
He choked and spit as the woman wrapped her arms and legs around him once again. “YOU STUPID MAN!” She sobbed loudly near his ear. “WE HAVE TO GET TO LAND! PLEASE COME WITH ME. THEY WILL SEE IT WHEN THE SUN IS UP! PLEASE! PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME!”
He glanced back at the wall of eddying ocean and could no longer see the raft. Too tired to argue, he surrendered, curling his arms securely around her as another wave lifted them up and back down.
“We won’t be able to swim against the ocean.” He breathed, coughing as the rain poured down heavier on their faces and burned against his nostrils. “We’ll have to fight to keep it in view and pray that the storm dies down while we can still see it.”