Yet my exhausted, grief-stricken mind had forgotten him.
And now...as the monitors recorded a racing heart and the antibiotics cleared his blood, I managed a small smile as Pippa and Coco inched closer to his cot.
Last night, we’d spent it together. We’d been given separate rooms, but after so long living in house only feet away from each other, I couldn’t sleep without the sounds of their breathing.
I missed Conner’s breath. His vibrant energy and boundless youth.
Unfortunately, the bed we’d been given was too spongy, and after hours of restless discomfort, we’d all camped on the floor. We only took the pillows (which were the best invention ever) and snuggled close.
Coco had cried for the newness of it all.
Pippa had cried for the loss of it all.
And I’d hugged both of them. Finally strong enough to comfort them, knowing Galloway hadn’t gone.
The next morning, I had my first hot shower in almost four years.
The overwhelming sensation of flowing water, of turning on a tap and being able to drink made gratitude pour.
Unwrapping a new toothbrush and tasting minty paste for the first time in so long.
The simple things.
Things I’d used every day without thinking were now the most incredible novelties.
Once we were clean, Pippa, Coco, and I joined the other cruise guests at the buffet. There were too many voices, too many bodies, too many of everything.
We couldn’t do it after so long in solitary.
However, Stefan was our personal shadow. He instructed us to find a relaxing spot on the promenade surrounded by potted palm trees and cushioned wicker furniture while he gathered us plates groaning with waffles and maple syrup, crispy bacon, fresh mango, fluffy eggs, and the largest plate of miniature muffins I’d ever seen.
That first taste of sugar.
My tears mingled with blueberry dough, and Pippa’s moans of pleasure threaded with mine until we sounded like rabid savages.
We visited Galloway often, but he remained asleep. However, his lips twitched whenever I touched him, and his forehead smoothed when I whispered in his ear.
We were subjected to poking and prodding from the medical team. We were given tablets and vitamins and our vitals checked regularly to ensure we were improving.
For dinner, Stefan brought us cheeseburgers and French fries, roasted chicken and potatoes, braised beef and thick gravy.
For all my vegetarian ways, I sampled everything.
And I cried.
It seemed I cried and cried and cried.
I cried in happiness. In pain. In homesickness. I cried in confusion. In misery for Conner. In excitement.
So many things were changing, and we had no choice but to be swept away.
The cruise had set sail the moment we’d been found, authorities had been alerted, Morse code or telegrams (however boats transmitted messages) sent to our respective families.
The passengers had been informed of the change of schedule and given a choice to disembark at the nearest hotel in Nadi, and wait a few days for a replacement cruise, or return to Sydney with the promise of another voyage of their choosing.
To my surprise, the majority decided to return home with us. I had no idea why the captain wanted to personally escort us. He could’ve dumped us on a flight (gulp) or arranged other transportation.
But he wouldn’t hear of it.
Our reappearance was his personal accomplishment. He’d found us and would only leave us when we were on familiar soil.
Unbeknownst to him, Galloway wasn’t from Australia. Neither was Pippa. And Coco didn’t have a birth certificate. We were all going to the one place I knew because I was greedy and wanted to see Madeline. I wanted to hold my friend and tell her who I’d become. What I’d become. And let her protect me from what would come next.
Despite my nerves dealing with so many strangers, they gravitated toward us, drawn by our celebrity status thanks to the captain announcing our unforeseen arrival. If the limited audience was this obsessed with us, what would the city be like? How hectic would our future be now we were back from the dead?
I met with the captain again and apologised profusely for my dramatics. He’d hugged me (I was hugged a lot) and said he completely understood. He pried about our tale. Asked questions. Curious as to how we’d survived.
I was reluctant to share too much. What we’d endured was ours. It wasn’t a story to be told with gratuitous embellishment. It wasn’t something to gloat over and determine if the re-teller could’ve done better.
It was our life.
And I wanted no judgement.
So instead of answering his questions, I smiled and redirected. I learned more about the P&O renovation than I ever needed. He educated me on his nautical career and showed me pictures of his two boys in Taiwan.
The photos depicted twins aged sixteen.
I’d tried not to but couldn’t help it.
Conner had been sixteen.
Conner had died before he could be found and now...now, we’d been taken away.
And soon...Pippa might be taken from me, too.
She was only eleven-years-old. But she acted like an adult. She knew how to fish, to cook, to build, to heal. She was more woman than any girl I’d ever met. And she was mine.
We shared the same last name through some twisty cliffhanger of fate.
But we weren’t blood, no matter how much I wished it.
Our future was changing and the power I had over our destinies was no longer in effect.
I was once again just a songwriter without a pen to write.