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The Fault Lies Not in the Stars

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Day One

Of course, it's all Stephen's fault. I dress furiously, fingers a blur as I wrench on my dark maroon M&S pants and Anna Sui peach blouse. I complement the look with a wide, cloth belt, and a fringed scarf. Peering critically into the mirror, I assess myself, before applying make-up.

Despite the fact the Grand Marriott Philippines hotel-room clock informs me it's 3.17am, the ensemble itself is faultless. Unlike my useless ex-husband. Stephen is apparently soon to be married in New York. In secret.

That bastard. He's doing it to make a point. To spite me.

I stain my lips with Crimson Deceit, then screw the lipstick down into itself, slamming its cap back on with brutal satisfaction.

In a fit of bitter truth, I once told my ex that if he ever remarried, I'd be sure to send the bride my deepest condolences, and inform the congregation that he had a penchant for blond waitresses catering weddings. I should know. He cheated on me at mine. A lovely tidbit I learned during our divorce.

His reply was a string of personal abuse I've never been able to forget. Cold fish. Frumpy. An aging, dried-up body that could satisfy no man. Emotional wasteland. Ice queen to the core. Oh, I might have my flaws; indeed many. But Stephen Tomlinson remains my greatest disappointment.

So, it's decided. I eye myself for a moment. I'm doing this. Having the last word without saying a thing. I'm going to crash his secret wedding, stand in the back when he says "I do", and smile a mysterious, taunting smile, and make him panic about what I've told his guests. I'm going to make him squirm for the pain he's dared inflict on me so deliberately. And then I shall never think of him again.

That's all.


I let myself into Andrea's room, irritated already by that substandard second assistant Bess back home, yawning in my ear and attempting to take notes. Andrea wouldn't have needed to have my instructions repeated; Andrea would have grasped my orders in the first instance, despite the fact it's now… I squint at my watch… 3.31am.

Instructions issued, I end the call, and lean over to wake the only halfway competent assistant I can remember in… how long has it been anyway? Not that I'd tell Andrea that; it'd just go to her head.

I've decided Andrea needs to return with me to New York. I haven't fully thought through why, but it's just better. It's always better when—

She's… not alone.

She's… naked.

My assistant clearly picked up some stray redhead last night. A female redhead.

A jolt of shock, embarrassment, panic, and base sexual interest flood me in equal measure, and for a moment I'm not certain where to look. This…development…never once occurred to me in all my occasional thoughts about my assistant.

My mouth opens and all sorts of officious commands fall out, but I'm fixed on her creamy skin, before her sheet is jerked further up to her collarbone, and she reaches for her notepad. I take my leave, head spinning.

Some thirty minutes later, in front of the hotel, Nigel and Andrea approach. Now all I can see in my mind's eye is the teasing expanse of her skin, the dip of cleavage, the shadow of…

I am blushing. For God's sake. Am I a teenage boy? This is…is… I'm not sure what it is, but I'm deeply unimpressed. I glare at Nigel, and demand he keep Philippe, his flighty French photographer, under control at the shoot. I may have muttered something about sandals. I recall little of the conversation. He leaves us.

Now I'm stuck, waiting for my car, alone with Andrea. Andrea, my entirely too-pleasant assistant, who sleeps with shapely redheads for amusement.

My cheeks redden even more at the mental picture. I purse my lips.

Where is that car?


Sleeping on planes is always a ridiculous waste of time. I leave that to my assistants. Ordinarily, I'd be working on my schedule, or the Book, or something of importance, but my brain is fizzing and hissing slowly, like a balloon losing air.

I'm trying to maintain my rage about Stephen's sly, sneaky wedding. It goes with his sly, sneaky personality, that probably involved more mistresses than I've had facialist appointments.

But I keep seeing her skin. Oh, I've admired Andrea before this. It's hard not to notice when an employee has a natural beauty that turns heads. I notice Serena too. And, of course, that's to be expected. I'm in the business of creating beautiful things. Appreciating women exhibiting this facet is not unusual. It's not…salacious. I don't mean it that way. But who alive doesn't pause to appreciate that which they find most attractive?

Reaching for my bag, I intend to get my notes out, to work out my strategy for the next issue, but my mind slithers back to Andrea, and how she twisted away to get her notepad, exposing a supple ripple of back muscle under skin that lacked freckles or blemishes.

I draw out my eye mask instead. Clearly concentration is going to be reaching for the stars. I may as well remove the irritatingly beautiful source of my wandering thoughts from my sight.

The bliss of darkness greets me.


She sleeps the sleep of the dead. Barely after take-off and she's out like a light, the long lashes against her cheek fluttering in REM sleep. Andrea has exceptional lashes. I've always thought so.

I frown at that mental detour. Really, is it too hard to stay focused on a grudge? Stephen is the reason I am on this flight. Must Andrea intrude in my thoughts now at all times? I unbuckle my seatbelt, suddenly with a burning need to stretch my legs, splash some water on my face, anything but be here.

In the first-class bathroom, which is small, but not sardine-can, economy-class nightmarish, I notice the flowers. Just by the sink, to the left of the hand rail, it's a tiny bunch. I'm not even sure they're real. I lean over to inspect them, my fingers curling around the rail, when it happens.

BANG!

My entire body is flung up, but my grip tightens hard on the rail, preventing me from being slammed into the ceiling. Not so lucky, the flowers meet their fate…real ones it turns out, given the exploding petals raining down on me. My other hand joins the first, clinging to the handrail and I stare, in astonishment for half a second, suspended upside-down, trying to make sense of what's happening.

We're falling. Not just me, the whole plane, is spiralling downward. I'm slammed back to the floor. There will be bruises later, but my mind is not on pain. I glance out the tiny window just as a blackened, detached chunk of wing screams past.

The Wing. Flew. Past.

I gape. All right, not... ideal.

The smell of smoke intrudes along the ceiling, moments later becoming visible, curling like talons.

We're pointing down like a javelin. We'll be in the water soon. The speed with which we're dropping, it'll be seconds. And then…that will be that. Oh, God, my girls. My sweet girls. My phone is in my bag, at my seat. Do they know? How much I love them? All those times I couldn't be with them, all those wasted hours at work in meetings… did they know? Truly?

This is not acceptable. If I survive this, I will sue this airline for every dime. I arc my neck to peer out the window. I can't judge the distance but we must be really close now. The angle is too steep and the shuddering through the floor too erratic for me to risk exiting the bathroom. My feet are braced against the door now, my hand clinging to the hand rail. I'm waiting, my heartbeat thundering in my ears, and my brain replaying images of my darlings. Laughing, smiling, being tickled. The look on Greg's face the day they were born.

"They have your eyes," he told me, voice soft and loving. Back before we'd started fighting. Before I resented him, and he me. I can't even remember his bad points right now. Just the sweetness in his expression. "I see them in your face."

I see them too. Will I ever again? My heart clenches. God, my poor babies.

The smoke is thicker. I slouch down as much as I can, difficult given I'm in such an unwieldy position, hand up, clinging to the hand rail, feet braced in front. I try, desperately, not to think about what I haven't done with my life. All the fears, all the ways I hid my truths. None of it matters. I try not to think about the terrified screams I hear outside the bathroom door. In a way, I prefer being inside this cocoon. I don't want to see the frightened faces that go along with those screams.

It might be thirty seconds since the explosion, a minute at most, but it feels like an eternity. I feel like I can see my life like a car teetering on the edge of a cliff, rocking to and fro. My hands are perspiring; my hair clings to my head. It won't be long now.

Cutting through the speakers comes the captain's voice, sharp and stressed. He says, in his accented voice, just three words. "Brace for impact."

That's it.

My muscles tense.

To think it's come to this.

Of course this is all Stephen's fault.


Who knew impacting water would be so jarring? It's like hitting the pavement. My arm is thrown off the handrail; my body catapulted forward to slam into the door. I don't even feel it, I'm so filled with adrenaline. The plane levels out as it plunges into the ocean, still on an angle, but not nearly as acute. At least it hasn't broken apart on impact.

Maybe it has? The thought chills me that I'm in some underwater coffin made for one. I gather my wits, stand, well, lurch given our angle, and scrabble for the door.

Water rushes in the instant that I open it, and a meaty hand of a person hurrying past slams into me, pushing me back into the bathroom.

It's dark beyond the door, the emergency lights are lit along the floor, water is coiling and swirling in at ankle level. A stampeding whoosh of people thunders past amid panicked cries.

I try again to step out, and again I'm pushed back inside by a burly body, dragging his wife along past me. I get a glimpse of her face. Whites of eyes, sheer terror, nothing else.

I'm small, far smaller than anyone at Runway ever seems to notice; I'm not built for shouldering my way into a crowd, and I'd give anything right now for a bit of burliness, some width to my shoulders and hips. Cruel irony for someone who has featured nothing but wraiths and waifs for decades.

It's been ten or twenty seconds, and we're sinking deeper. The water's now at my knees. That's too fast. It's now or never. Summoning every last bit of power I've ever possessed, I announce with the snap of authority "Make way!" and throw my way into the press of humanity pushing by. Somehow, it works, and I'm enfolded into the rushing darkness and fleshy forms, sweating and straining forward.

There's only one pace. Only one direction.

Screams are behind me. People are thinning out ahead of me. There must be a way out. And then… then… Andrea!

I whip my head around, disgusted and appalled I've not thought of her in my panic. "Andrea!" I try to bark, my voice dying in my throat as I catch a shadowy glimpse of where I was sitting. There's now only bulkhead pressing down into Andrea's seat from behind where her head should have been.

A woman behind me presses her talons into my back and hisses, "Keep moving."

"My assistant…" I cut in, outraged.

"Lady, she's probably dead or already outside," a man's voice barks at me from in front. "Either way, you can't do shit about it now."

He makes a valid point but I have never wished to injure another human quite so much as this…this man. Well, not since an hour ago and Stephen…

Fuelled by that furious reminder, and propelled by the press of bodies driving me on, we are soon near the front, almost swallowed whole by water, that's now at my chest. It's harder to move, the wash from some unseen hole is pushing us back into the plane, and I can't work out where the tear in the plane's side is that we are supposed to get through.

A hand from the man I wished to kill five seconds ago reaches behind for me and hauls me to the left, where I catch sight of our escape route. I do the same for the woman behind me, snatching her hideous polyblend cardigan and yanking her into line behind me. We start to form a wordless chain-gang, propelled by muscle and fear, an aisle full of people silently showing each other the path out.


I’m free.

I surface, lungs straining for air, and gasp in heavy, hungry gulps. I gorge myself on oxygen, feeling high from the sensation. All around me people are being swept away, life jackets dragging them farther and farther out to sea. They bob about, like an oddly cheerful assortment of yellow corks.

Is Andrea among them? I call her name, ignoring how hoarse and rough my voice sounds. An absurd part of me half expects her to paddle over and make some inane comment, like "Did you need me, Miranda"?

No one replies. But my idea to call for her takes root, sparking a rabble of other shouts, voices, desperate, thin, and pained, calling out for loved ones.

I don’t see Andrea anywhere. I’d do anything to see those bright eyes appear; tolerate even her gentle, almost-teasing that I might have sounded a little…flustered at her untimely absence.

She did that to me once before. Left me. I saw the set of her shoulders and knew what was about to happen even before she tossed her phone in a Parisian fountain. A chill ran through me the likes of which I have never experienced before. But the silly girl came back. So, there’s a precedent. Andrea always could do the impossible.

Where is she?

Treading water, I spin carefully around in a circle, eyes scanning every choppy white-tipped wave. She’s resourceful, I remind myself. Smart. She’s tougher than she looks. She’s…

The image of the bulkhead where her seat had been fills me with bile.

She’s dead.

Nausea swamps me. I wallow in it for a few moments, fury warring with guilt, until the chill from the water finally registers when I tremble. No, no, this will not do. I refuse to die of hypothermia after managing to swim out of a crashed aircraft.

I take stock of my situation. I don’t have a life jacket. Because incompetence surrounds this airline. And… I didn’t think to look for one in the bathroom. I am furious with myself. It was probably there, too. For a second I wonder where it would have been secreted.

Enough. I need a direction and a…

A cry goes up and I turn to see what has the attention of the gaggle of bobbing corks. The tail of the plane, well in the distance, has snapped in half and is submerging. The brief flare of flame hissing around it draws my eye beyond it. An island lies in the distance.

"Land!" I shout to the others.

They don’t hear. The wind is driving them even farther away. I set course and swim. I’m fit at least. The twice weekly Pilates and yoga sessions have finally come in handy.

It takes about forty minutes before I reach the shore. My foot steps onto the most glorious stretch of sand I’ve ever witnessed in my life, and nothing will ever change my mind on that. Soaked, freezing, and suddenly thirsty, I scan the area.

Where is everyone else? Surely I cannot be the only one to make it this far?

I continually look around, hopeful in spite of all good sense, of seeing a certain assistant, with wide, eager-to-please eyes.

Nothing. No one greets me. I trudge along the shore, looking anyway. I don’t know how long I walk. It’s long enough for fear and deep distress to start flooding my veins.

Damn it, Stephen. Damn you.


There’s a body on the shore line. Little better than a sodden lump from this distance, but the shape of it, the curve and length of it… it’s surreal. It couldn’t possibly be... I run, no, sprint, because I have to know. Is it Andrea? Is she…

She’s face down.

I skid to her side, drop to my knees, and turn her over.

Everything seems to stop as I stare at her. Andrea. Doing the impossible one more time. Coming back to my side yet again.

Her lips are blue.

I check her mouth, her airways, they’re clear. She’s not breathing. How long has she been here? She’s so cold. So, so cold. But it’s her. And…there’s a pulse. Faint but there.

The song Stayin’ Alive cycles through my head, the exact pace one must use to perform CPR. I am methodical, ten chest compressions, then air forced down her throat. Rinse, repeat.

Lips colder than ice meet mine the first time.

There’s a twitch. Did I imagine it? Maybe it’s my mind tricking me? Or worse… Has she been here, waiting for me all this time, only now to die, once I’m at her side?

"Andrea. Don’t you dare," I order her. She will not die, not now. I won’t accept that. Another twitch. "Breathe, damn you!"

A violent movement this time, then she twists, just as I pull back, a salty water discharge vomited from her mouth.

I gasp. "An-Andrea?"

She rolls over and I stare in disbelief. "Look at me! Andrea. Don’t you dare close your eyes now. Don’t you—" She passes out.


 

We are sitting in silence, awaiting our rescue. Well by we, I mean me. I sit. Andrea lies, sprawled out, in the recovery position, hopefully some part of her enjoying the sun’s rays drying out her lovely Donna Karan skirt and Amelia Donovan blouse. It’s not a bad combination, come to think of it.

“You’ve come a long way, Andrea,” I tell her. Fashion-wise, she’s turned from sacrilegious to acceptable.

She lies there, her breathing mercifully even. I take that as appreciation of my words.

“Don’t take that as a sign I’ll be showering you with praise in the future, Andrea,” I warn her. “It’s not in my DNA.”

I flick sand off the knees of my pants, noting with a frown a tear near the pocket. I’ll add the $1200 price tag to the lawsuit my lawyer will bill the airline for this. Not that I paid for these pants, but it's the principle. The bill is going up more by the hour in my head, the longer I’m forced to wait here for our rescue.

It’s sure to be forthcoming, I remind myself, as a prickle of unease goes through me. It’s been at least three hours. Planes don’t just disappear without anyone being aware of it. We’re well overdue by now.

How is the photoshoot going? Is Nigel curbing Phillipe’s worst impulses at creative nonsense? There’s a fine line between genius and absurdism. We talk of it often. My loyal art director is the closest anyone’s ever come to truly knowing me. Professionally at least.

Does anyone actually know me personally though?

Caroline and Cassidy, of course. As much as two twelve-year-old girls can possibly be aware.

My eyes slide to Andrea, considering. In a way my personal assistant is the closest person to me. As far as knowing someone goes, she knows all my foibles. In another life, that would be called friendship. Or it would, if there wasn’t a paycheck involved.

“Well, Andrea, how do you like that? You and Nigel are top of my friends list.” I give a mirthless snort. Since I don’t do friendship well, that’s probably not the biggest endorsement.

I consider her face, slack, and still far too colorless. Reaching over anxiously, I check her pulse again. I’ve been doing that a little too often to be merely for her health. Strong and steady.

Good. That’s good. My eyes scan the horizon line, then the skies. Our rescue party seems beyond incompetent. At this rate the sun will be setting, and I’ll still be sitting here, monologuing with my unconscious assistant.

That is in no way a sound plan. I clamber to my feet. Enough waiting. If incompetence surrounds me, I shall have to sort this out myself. I think hard. I need to get the lay of the land; see if survivors washed up elsewhere. That does mean leaving Andrea. I frown and my gaze falls to her body, helpless and smaller than it’s ever seemed.

“I trust you’ll stay here, and make yourself useful while I’m gone, by remaining alive and breathing,” I instruct Andrea tersely, as though reeling off a list of commands on our mornings at the elevator. “Then I expect you to wake, ready to assist me in whatever is needed. Understood?”

Her eyelids twitch. Yes. All right then.

I choose a direction and begin to stride away. Forcing myself not to look back, I rationalize that watching over Andrea for another however many hours will not get us rescued or ensure our protection for the night. It’s hard though. Harder than I expected.

I do not look back.

After some time, I spy footprints. One set. About size ten or eleven. One foot dragging.

Relief floods me. Not alone then. Help is at hand. Excellent.

You see, Andrea, I want to tell her. Being proactive gets results.


 

His name’s Derrick. The owner of the footprints. A perfectly polite Filipino flight attendant; I think I met him on the flight. I can’t be entirely sure. I was distracted then.

The man’s leg is hurt; his uniform is in shreds, but the glorious man has managed to start a fire.

"I’m Miranda," is all I can think to say as I lower myself gratefully in front of it to warm my hands. As I do so, he shakily tells me what he knows.

"We were off-course." Derrick stares dully into the flames. His eyes flick to mine. "I overheard the pilot getting angry about his navigation equipment giving misleading readings. Maybe for an hour. They’ll be searching in the wrong area."

And there goes my plans for a fast reunion with my bobbseys. Stephen’s untimely demise will also have to wait.

I sigh. I really should let that go. But it does feel like my fury for my ex is half the reason I’m still alive. That and my girls. I well up at the reminder. Oh, God.

"You have children?" Derrick asks kindly, as though recognizing something in my eyes.

"Twin girls."

"I have a little girl. She’s beautiful. Five years old next week." He fumbles in his pocket and then his face drops. "I had a photo." His expression becomes even more stricken. "I…it was my only copy of that photo." He swallows. "But, it’s okay. I’ll just have to have more taken. When…when we get back. Soon."

"I’ll get more firewood," I tell him abruptly, instantly annoyed. “You’re almost out. We can’t let the fire die.” If we’re way off course, there’s likely nothing soon about a rescue. I wonder for whose benefit Derrick’s lie was told. I hate being deceived more than anything. That’s why Stephen’s litany of lies was so galling. Why I’d felt blindsided and mocked when it all came out. Why his secret wedding felt like one final screw-you.

I trudge along the line between beach and vegetation dodging stubby almost-bushes scrabbling out their lean existences. I see no other fires, no sign of life. Not even fauna scuttling away. Odd. I wheel around, scooping up an armful of sticks, and head back.

Derrick’s skin is too pale, his lips turning blue when I return. I frown and stoke the fire to warm him.

"You’re injured," I state. "Your leg?" I don’t know why I made it a question. It’s pointing the wrong way. Obviously broken.

I reach out to inspect it, to see if it can be helped.

"Don’t ma’am. It’s a mess. Nothing to be done. The bulkhead hit it." His voice contains a tremble.

The bulkhead. Andrea was probably hit by the bulkhead. I swallow at the reminder. "Are you cold?"

He doesn’t answer, his eyes glazed with pain.

While I’ve been gone, he’s emptied out his pockets. A lighter, gum, a crumpled ball of sodden paper that looks like a receipt. An unfolded passenger manifesto, the ink running. My eyes fall to it.

How many, I wonder. Reaching for the page, I flatten it on the sand, feeling Derrick’s gaze on me. The top of the page gives the answer: One hundred, eighty-nine passengers and crew.

My stomach lurches. How many made it out? I saw forty? Fifty? Are all the rest still strapped to their seats? All of them? What of the small boy, about nine or ten, cute dimples, and a Red Sox cap? Where is he? Or the elderly woman, peering out the window, talking excitedly about how she’d last flown in a plane as a little girl.

My lips compress. All those lives.

"Your airline is incompetent," I spit at Derrick. My rage is rising. "How the hell does this happen! There will be consequences!"

He stares back at me, sorrow etching his features. "I’m sorry, ma’am," he gasps out. It’s harder for him to talk. His lips are even bluer.

Guilt bites me. "It’s…Miranda," I mutter, because "sorry" isn’t a word I’m comfortable with. Apologies are signs of weakness in the cuthroat world in which I fight. I just…can’t. It’s just he’s sitting there in that uniform, alive and…the others aren’t.

"You were travelling with someone," Derrick says quietly, breath sounding thin and uneven. "A young woman." His face twists into pain. "I am sorry. For your loss."

"An-drea." I say her name and it comes out chopped up. She’s alone. I need to get back to her; get her here, warm her up. I can’t have her dying now. My hands shake at the thought and I bury them into fists.

Derrick eyes me curiously. I see the question in his eyes, but he doesn’t ask.

I don’t say "she’s my assistant". Because that’s a lie. Her personality overflows her job title. “She’s alive,” I say instead. “I need to get her. Bring her here.”

If he’s surprised, he gives no sign. He also makes no comment. I wonder if he thinks I’ve conjured her up?  Either way, his silence is a relief.

I find it’s churlish but I hate even looking at Derrick in his uniform. I wish I could burn the jacket he’s drying by the fire. It’s emblematic of what has destroyed almost two hundred lives.

Andrea is my priority, though. I need to get back to the beach, to her. I also have to make sure there’s nothing else to be found, while there’s still light left. Maybe luggage has washed ashore.

Not just luggage.

The thought has been darting in and out of my consciousness. What will I see? And what condition will it..or they…be in?

Derrick tilts his head as I leave. "S-sorry," he whispers again, waving in the general direction of where the plane met its watery end. "I know it’s not enough but…" The words are a struggle for him to form.

I see it in his eyes. He’s a good man. He’s devastated. The burden is not his. I hope he gets to see his little girl again and take thousands of photos with her.

I should put his mind at rest and take the haunted look from his eyes; tell him it’s okay.

It isn’t though.

I nod. "I’ll be back soon. Keep the fire banked."


 

Andrea’s still alive. But she’s now far colder than when I left her. She needs warmth. A fire. So I’ll just…I look into the distance, around a curve of the beach, then beyond to where I know Derrick and that roaring fire is.

Never let it be said that Miranda Priestly is afraid of hard work. With a sigh, I plant my feet, fingers under her armpits and slowly walk backwards. Dragging.

Thirty minutes later, I’m sweating profusely. My back is spasming. The fire seems farther away than it ever was. And frankly I don’t care.

She’s alive.

Her foot snags something…again… she’s been doing that on a regular basis. But this time she twists awkwardly, causing me to grunt. Jesus. My back is going to give out if this takes...

"I c-c-c…"

She’s conscious. Sweet relief shoots through me. I stop dragging, breathing heavily.

"I c-c-c—" She shivers in a way that engages her whole body.

"Andrea?" I say it sharper than I intend.

"M-M-Mir—?" She makes a wobbly attempt at standing then promptly face plants.

Well, her balance is unchanged then. I haul her back to her feet and eye her, uncertain as to what she will say. Will her first words be, how could you have put me on that death plane? Or worse, so much worse, why were we on that flight?

I wait, my jaw working.

"Wh-where—?"

Well, that’s a much safer question. "This way. You need to move. Now." I inject my usual steel, hoping she’ll obey by rote, and it works. She’s moving slowly, those stockinged feet dragging ever onwards as I guide her forward, my hand gripping her upper arm tightly.

Her head is at an odd angle, as though she can’t straighten it, but if that’s the worst of her injuries, she’s gotten off lightly.

We’re almost there. She twists her head to try and look at me, but winces. Definitely a neck injury of some sort. Probably due to the bulkhead.

The thought almost makes me stumble. She was probably right there when I looked for her back on the plane. On the floor, perhaps? Under the shattered bulkhead, still in her seat? I could have reached her. Why didn’t I fight my way back to her and haul her out?

Is that what she’s thinking? Wondering why I didn’t get her?

Well, Andrea, I listened to the frightened mob and gave you up for dead. You understand.

I grimace.

She’d have gone back for me. The thought whispers around my brain like a toxic imp, spreading its mischief. I know it’s true immediately. It’s as certain as life, death, and taxes. Andrea would have flung herself down that aisle, over the heads of the stampeding passengers if she had to, screaming out for me, and drag me to safety.

And what did I do? Abandoned her.

Why? Because some fearful people let their need to escape infect me. They convinced me in two sentences it was too late. I have never hated myself quite so much.

My jaw firms into a scowl. Guilt tastes like acid. I deserve her condemnation. I can’t even look at her.

The fire’s right there. Derrick’s still beside it, but he’s let it die down. Damn the man. Doesn’t he understand anything about survival? Don’t they teach that to airline people or something? Or is it all just waving dramatically at emergency exits during pre-flight?

"Derrick? Wake up. You nearly let the fire die out with your—" Oh. "He’s dead."

For a second I can’t breathe as I think of his little daughter. Turning five next week. Suddenly I want to see my girls. I need them, I have to bury my face in their hair and tell them Mommy’s here.

I will not end up like Derrick.

Neither will Andrea. I can’t undo what I…what happened. I will do better. I glance at her and my gaze fixes on her lips. The hideous hue is disturbingly familiar.

"He was shivering like you are," I say flatly. "Blue like you are."

"Wh-where is ev-ev’ryone e-else?"

How can I possibly answer that without stripping her of all hope? I say nothing. I will not make things any worse for her. Not worse than I’ve already done, anyway. I busy myself building up the fire, when she finally stutters out another sentence.

"T-tell m-my mom I didn’t d-drown. D-don’t let her kn-know that part. Just t-tell her I was t-too cold. K-k-kay?"

I won’t let that happen, I want to tell her. Or, you’ll be fine. But I loathe lies. Lies told to me. And telling them. I can’t promise her anything about her wellbeing. But I can promise her this.

I meet her gaze and say, "Okay."