He always hoped that he’d be the one to find her.
And he does, after all this time.
In the darkness, they just stare at each other.
They don’t move, and they don’t say anything.
Her face is young and pale, the moonlight filtering through the trees, leaving streaks; she is the same way he remembers her.
In her eyes he sees recognition, and there, that is all he sees.
She stared at him in the darkness.
Her eyes burned into his skin, accusation and fury radiating off of her like heat, enveloping him where he sat, his back against the wall.
The others, they always spoke.
They always had something to say.
You have to go back.
The island is not done with you.
We need you.
How could you just forget about us?
You said you’d get us all rescued.
You’re a liar.
But she never spoke.
He wished she’d just say something, anything.
He wanted her to accuse him, to hurl insults at him.
He wanted her to unleash the anger she was clearly holding back, to give him what he knew he deserved, to throw herself at him and beat her fists against him and just say it, just say-- you took him, you took my baby away-- and he wouldn’t defend himself, he wouldn’t grab at her hands, to push her away, because, after all, she’d only be telling the truth.
But she never did anything of the sort.
And that was worse.
He had never been a religious man, but now he closed his eyes and prayed.
And he knew she was watching all the while.
Marc’s sister stuffed her soccer bag in first, then slid in the backseat.
“So, Amy,” Marc began, his voice teasing, his fingers drumming against the steering wheel. “Who was that guy you were talking to?”
“None of your business, that’s who,” Amy retorted. “Hey, Jack.”
Jack craned his head around from where he sat in the passenger seat to look at her, seeing the brown hair pulled up in a neat ponytail, the cheerful smile. He remembered what it was like to be thirteen.
He smiled back. “Hey, Amy.”
“I’m just saying,” Marc pressed on, his eyes flicking to the rearview mirror. “If my baby sister has a boyfriend, I’d like to meet him, maybe have a little talk--”
“Oh, shut up,” Amy sighed, and Marc grinned, and Jack watched, a silent witness to this familiar dance between siblings, ashamedly wanting.
“Why did you both decide not to have any more kids after me?”
His mother blinked at him, her orange juice clutched in her hand, halfway to her mouth.
His father merely looked at him over the newspaper splayed open in his hands.
“I was just wondering,” Jack added, shrugging with a smile that felt much too strained.
His mother smiled softly at him, bringing her drink to her lips. “You were exactly what we wanted, dear. We didn’t need any more.”
His father nodded. “Absolutely,” He said, his eyes already darting away, fixed on the newspaper once more.
“Oh, I almost forgot, I left the college applications in your room, Jack.”
Jack lifted his eyes from his toast to see his mother back to business, to her usual self. “It’d be best for you to fill them out as soon as you can.”
He reached for the butter, already back to routine. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
That night, when he was about to pass his father’s study, he glanced inside (a habit he couldn't break) through the slightly ajar door, to see what had become so familiar all these years.
His father was leaning back in his chair, the glass of scotch loosely held in his hand, staring across the room at nothing, lost in thought.
And for the first time, it fully struck Jack how old his father looked.
After a moment, he quietly stepped back from the door and walked away.
In his dreams, he re-lived the day of the crash.
Everything around him was a blur.
But she was the only thing he saw clearly.
He watched as she doubled over, falling to her hands and knees against the sand, gasping in pain.
No matter how hard he tried to run he only ended up further and further away, until he couldn’t see how the bright blonde hair shone gold under the sun and the hands that clutched at her stomach, the wide blue eyes that Jack had once seen every day of his adolescence.
Then he couldn’t even see her anymore.
“Jack?” She says, and the spell breaks.
“Claire,” He merely responds and his voice sounds so odd to him, as if it belongs to someone else, full of disbelief yet also of crippling relief, because she is alive.
He’s afraid to even blink, for fear that she will disappear if he does.
“You came back,” Her shoulders slump, relaxed, all tension gone. “He said you would.”
Jack finds that he doesn’t even need to ask who she’s talking about, for now he understands.
The twigs snap beneath his feet as he finally moves forward, feeling dizzy, staggering to a log to sit down.
“Claire,” He says, the words rushing out of him; this could be his only chance to say it, to explain. “I’m sorry--”
He cuts himself off.
I’m sorry for leaving you here.
I’m sorry for taking Aaron away.
I’m sorry for not knowing the truth earlier.
He holds his head in his hands, now suddenly unable to look at her, to see the emotions he’s dreamed about-- hatred, rage-- contort her face. “I’m sorry for everything.”
Claire moves towards him, sitting down next to him, the air thick with her silence and his shame.
“I don’t blame you.”
The words steal his breath, his head whipping around to look at her.
She looks back at him solemnly; she means it.
“Aaron is safe,” He assures her, it nearly a whisper, because she must know it.
She looks down at the ground. “I know.”
It’s hard to read her face.
Then she looks back up at him, serene. “I knew you’d look after him for me.”
A smile curves her mouth; her eyes shine, knowing. “That’s what a brother does, right?”
He lets out a breath, not realizing until now how he had been holding it in. His eyes sting with gratitude.
He smiles back, looking at her as if for the first time. “Yeah. I suppose it is.”
The breeze is light, rustling the leaves and teasing her long hair, and when her hand, warm (not cold, and this is yet another relief), wraps itself around his, he holds on.