Michael made to go to the boy but Charles held him back.
“I’ll go,” he said quietly. “It’s okay.”
Michael nodded and made way for him.
“Just don’t bother telling me I should stop saying fuck because I won’t,” Gary said as he eyed Charles. The elderly man laughed. He took the seat across the aisle, leaned towards Gary and started speaking quietly.
Samantha sat on the nearest seat.
“Are we really that?” she said, looking up at Bianca. “The ferryman? Davy Jones?”
“I don’t feel very legendary,” Bianca said. “And we didn’t exactly ferry their souls anywhere. We just brought them here and we didn’t even do it on purpose.”
“We calmed them down,” Michael said, staring at a point on the floor. “We comforted them. Charles did.”
“Yes,” Bianca said. “Maybe that’s why we’re here.”
“And how long do you think we’ll be here?” Samantha said. She had to breathe in before she could utter the last word.
Bianca looked away. Michael continued staring at the floor.
“I need air,” Gabrielle said. “I need to move. Excuse me.” She pushed through Bianca and Michael, and hurried down the aisle to the front exit.
“Rob?” Samantha said.
He shook his head.
“She needs some time alone,” he said. “I’ll go see what we have to eat.”
The darkness was almost complete under the overcast sky. The only sound breaking the silence came from the lake being alive. Bianca sat leaning on the now familiar rock, Michael’s head in her lap. This was their side of the lake now. The other side was Rob and Gabrielle’s. Everyone understood the others’ need for privacy and accepted it without even discussing it. They had run into each other two nights earlier, Michael and Bianca finding the other two by what Bianca thought of as their rock, not that she would ever refer to it this way, even to Michael. But Michael had had no such qualms. He had told Rob and Gabrielle it was their rock. It had made Bianca want to cry for a moment.
“How long do you think we can keep doing it?” Michael said. She was running her fingers through his hair, pulling the curls straight and then letting them snap back into their original shape. Now she stopped.
“As long as we have to.”
He opened his eyes.
“I’m thinking about big crashes with a hundred, two hundred people dead. How do we handle something like this?”
Bianca sighed and resumed raking through his hair. She had thought about it. She couldn’t think about anything else, really. How long could they watch crash after crash kill people without losing their minds? Gary was particularly vulnerable, he was so young. The others were vulnerable, too. Although maybe they wouldn’t lose their minds, not if they had felt what she had felt as she stood in that other plane watching it decompress and purge half a dozen of its passengers. Rightness, that what it had been, a feeling she was exactly where she needed to be in that precise moment in time, a feeling of fulfillment before she had done anything that merited it. It was a pleasant feeling a gratifying one. But Bianca wasn’t sure this feeling would still be there if the casualties were in their hundreds.
“You don’t want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” she said. “We’ll deal with it when it happens.”
“And it will happen because apparently we’re not bound by time. Nineteen-eighty-five. Damn.” He shook his head.
Bianca lifted his head and slipped down from the rock, settling next to him on the dry grass that now served as their bed. It was soft although it didn’t look it, as soft as bed linen, the only thing absent a blanket. But it was never cold enough for a blanket. For them, the air was invariably warm but not hot, just right if you happened to want to take your clothes off on the shore or a little way away from it behind a rock.
“That was a surprise,” she said as she nestled into Michael’s side a while later, her breath still a little heavy. He turned to face her, wrapping an arm around her.
“We will never speak of it again,” he said.
Bianca elbowed him in the ribs.
“There’s nothing wrong with… not needing a lot of time.”
“Of course there isn’t and I’m flattered,” he said with a crooked smile and stroked her cheek. “Why did we divorce?”
Bianca laughed. She turned on her back, the soft grass pressed to her skin, the sky above her full of stars and the glaring thin crescent of the growing moon. A light breeze rippled the still night air. The only sound was the lake lapping at the shore and the occasional creak from a pine. The place was a postcard come to life. A family postcard. A romantic one.
“Because I was running in the fast lane and you wanted to take things easy,” Bianca said eventually.
“That’s a stupid reason for a divorce.”
“It didn’t feel stupid at the time,” she said quietly. It had felt right, as right as when she stood in that DC-10 watching the fuselage rip open, or almost as right because there had been doubt, far back in her mind. That doubt never stood a chance, confronted with her determination to shed what she considered an extra load, someone she had to take care of instead of taking care of herself. She hid her face in the chest of that load now, the flush of embarrassment creeping up her neck and heating it up.
“No, it didn’t,” Michael said and kissed the top of her head.
“I was way too arrogant for my own good. And for ours,” Bianca murmured.
“You were ambitious. I admired the hell out of you for it.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Silence descended on the lake and its surroundings once again and lasted until the break of daylight, when Bianca and Michael dressed and returned to the plane, meeting Rob and Gabrielle on the way. They exchanged smiles and laughed when Rob commented sleeping outside in the fresh air was good for you. They had reached the airstair and Gabrielle had stepped on it, saying good morning to Charles who stood on the top step, stretching, when the breeze brought the sound of voices. Foreign voices. Living voices.
Gabrielle turned wide-eyed to Bianca who was on her heels. Bianca turned too, scanning the shore and the rocks, and the land beyond for the intruders.
“Shouldn’t we go inside?” Gabrielle whispered.
“I don’t think they’ll be able to see us,” Charles said. “But who knows.”
Gabrielle hurried up the steps and into the plane. Bianca slowly climbed back down and Charles stayed at the top of the staircase. The intruders appeared a few moments later – half a dozen young people with backpacks and loud voices speaking French. Bianca tensed when she first saw them emerge from the landscape and Michael took her hand.
“Here goes,” Charles said under his breath. A light rustling made him turn back. Samantha was peeking out from behind the door. He stepped aside to make space for her but she shook her head and remained behind the door.
The group didn’t see them. They didn’t see a plane and they didn’t see three people standing by it and two people at the top of the airstair. They wandered along the shore for a while until they picked a spot to settle in and began unpacking what turned out to be a picnic. Bianca, Rob, and Michael stood and watched them set blankets and pile up food and two bottles of wine on them and then settle around the feast talking and laughing.
“That’s… weird,” Rob said. “Very weird.”
“Yes, drinking wine in the morning is weird. Let’s go in,” Bianca said. She let go of Michael’s hand and started up the airstair. At the top she met the sad smile on Charles’ face and mirrored it.
“We’re ghosts.” It wasn’t a sad or angry, or particularly desperate statement. It was simply a statement of facts.
He nodded and clapped her gently on the shoulder when she passed by him.