Some glad morning when this life is over,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).
"What's that?" Boomer asked, his small hand grabbing the piece of paper quickly. I watched as mom pulled him onto her lap and looked at the photo in his hand.
Brick and I climbed up into the chair as well. It was an old chair but it was big and soft and the material smelled like our mom. She let us slide against her so that we could see the photo as well. I wrinkled up my nose, unknowingly wearing the same expression my two brothers were wearing.
"What is it?" Brick asked her.
She laughed softly and Brick smiled at me, proud he'd made her laugh and I just stuck out my tongue at him.
"It's a beach," She explained, gently taking the picture from Boomer's hand. She pointed as she said: "There's the sand, and the ocean, and the waves. Those are palm trees and right there you can see a seagull."
"It's a bird," I told her, looking at the ugly animal in the picture but my mom was smiling tenderly so I kept my thoughts inside.
"At the beach there are dozens of those birds. You'll see them sometimes at the docks here, but it gets too cold for them to stay in our city." She told us. "The beach is warm. And the air there smells of salt and the sound of waves crashing is beautiful."
"Can we go the beach, ma?" Boomer turned in her lap to stare up at her with his big blue eyes. He got away with the most.
"One day," She whispered. "One day, son. It's been years since I went to the beach. I was just a little girl, slightly older than you. That picture you found is very old."
"I want to go to the beach now," Boomer begged, excited.
She laughed and pulled all three of us to her. I pretended to struggle and get away which made her laugh again. "One day," she repeated as she kissed my cheek sloppily.
"This is it," Brick muttered as he searched through his bag. Neither of us had much time to pack before leaving Townsville but Brick had managed to grab a few things. I watched as he pulled a piece of paper from his bag and handed it over to me.
I looked down. It was the picture of a beach my mom had had when we were younger. It was creased and faded now but I could still make out the image. I held it up to the landscape before me for comparison. We weren't at the same beach, obviously, but it was similar to the one in the photo.
"I'm going to go walk around," Brick told me. He started slipping on his shoes and then stopped and took them back off. "I guess people around here don't really need to wear shoes. I need to blend in."
I rolled my eyes. Brick was redheaded and here we were on an island full of tan people with dark hair. He had no chances of blending in. I didn't tell him this, however, and just shrugged. Our new place was on the beach, far enough away from people so that we could get some privacy, but close enough so we could still go buy food.
"Be right back," Brick told me as he took off down the beach, his feet sinking in the white sand.
We'd only arrived on this island a day ago. It was called Koh Mak and it had taken us days to get there. The man who flew us here had been trying to sell the property for years and since we paid in cash he didn't need to use or know our names. We needed a low profile and the man had been an old friend of Ace's. He wouldn't tell anyone where we went and he assured us the people here wouldn't ask too many questions. Not that we planned on making many friends. This island was our escape. We'd live here until we found something else.
I looked around. The sound of the waves rolling in was unfamiliar to me and the sea looked alive in the hot sun. I looked back to the palm trees. Exotic birds called out. I frowned and moved further into the house. It was a small house, right on the beach, made of glass and wood. The floors were a slicked wood and the outside frame was all glass, giving us little privacy but no one lived nearby to see us.
I went into my room that I shared with Brick. Our two mats were rolled up in the corner where we would be sleeping. No beds. I reached the glass door and stuck the picture in the frame so that it stayed there. It was one of the few things we had, but we had never needed much to begin with.
I sighed and looked out at the expanse of the ocean.
"There's a town about a mile away," Brick came back to the house, his skin already reddened from the sun. "The people there seemed nice. They thought I was a tourist."
I rolled another cigarette and looked out into the night. I was sitting leaned back against the open doorframe and the sound of the ocean filled the room. Brick began cutting up some fruit he'd bought with his pocket knife and since we had no table he just handed me my slice. I wasn't sure what it was and I wasn't too hungry so I put it on the floor.
"No one will find us here," Brick said as he stood above me, watching the ocean as well. "We're not important enough for a full out search. In a few years we'll be history. Just an urban legend."
I said nothing and stared down at the cigarette and spun it between my fingertips. Brick turned and looked down at me.
"Butch?" He frowned.
I needed new clothes. My jeans were itchy and hot in this weather. I had taken off my shirt earlier when I had tried to fix the electricity box. I wasn't as handy with that stuff as I thought and ended up singeing three of my fingers and we still had no power. A few lanterns hung around us and the flames inside flickered only slightly as the breeze swung them.
"Butch?" Brick pressed and I looked up at him this time. His red eyes seemed concerned but he wouldn't ask me what was wrong. I sighed and stood up.
"I'm going to bed," I told him and went barefoot back into the house.
When I told bubbles she was a hero—I meant that she had saved me. After Boomer died the only thing keeping me from splitting into a thousand pieces was the fact that she existed. And if she was still alive, nothing could be completely wrong.
So I couldn't be completely mad at her for not coming. She had done enough for me, how could I expect her to give up everything because of my mistakes?
But still paradise seemed lacking without her. I was used to her. Her constant talking and laugh. I liked her smile way too much. It had wormed its way so far into my mind that I could recall her face at any moment of the day. It almost drove me insane, the way she distracted me without even being there.
Late at night when the windows were all open and the air around me was thick with heat and salt I would think of her. I would imagine using the money we had left to go get her. She'd do well here. The sun would darken her skin and lighten her hair. In time she would forget about ever missing the city. In time she would learn to love this life here in paradise.
In time I would be able to show her how much I owed her, since I was always better with actions than words.
Because if nothing else we would have time.
Here on this island days slipped by like water. Brick and I had already adapted as well as we could. I went into town less than Brick and therefore I spent more time in the ocean and the forest around us. I was just a city boy but soon I figured out which plants had good fruit. After days of practicing, and with some old nets Brick had gotten from town, I could catch a good amount of fish. The sway of the water and crash of the waves felt like nothing to me now that I'd grown used to it. I could stand out there for long periods at a time catching meals, the hot sun on my shoulders and my dark hair slicked away from my face. The nets had worn new calluses on my already rough hands as I held the net and stared down at the fish swimming around me.
'These are real fish,' I would tell Bubbles as I came out of the water. 'Not that frozen stuff you fixed me back in the city.'
I could see her in my mind. She'd make a face at the fish and smile at me 'Butch, I can't cook those!' She'd say and laugh, exasperated as if her adoration for me was the only thing that kept her around.
'I love you,' She had told me that before I had left and now her words repeated themselves like a song in my mind. 'I love you.'
I liked the sound of it, but before I had no idea what to do with it, and so I had said nothing. Now, if she was here, I'd push her back in the sand and show her that I loved her too. I always had. I just couldn't tell her before because I barely knew it myself. But now I knew it. Now when I was half a world away and there was no way of telling her.
'I love you.' She'd smile and kiss me, the sea breeze in her hair and the sun freckling her cheeks.
'I love you.'
Life on the beach was relaxing. I had never had so much time to lie around and it was weird. Everything was white sand, blue waters, and fresh green trees. I felt as if I were lifetimes away from the city despite it being only months since I'd left.
"I'll be back later tonight," Brick said, throwing on a thin white shirt. I was laid out on the beach, shirt off and hands tucked behind my head, staring up at the sky.
About a month ago Brick had started disappearing for hours at a time. I had worried at first; instinctively thinking the police had found him. But after going into town to find him I discovered his newest fascination. Brick was leaned up against the corner of a flower stand in the market, talking to one the prettiest girls I'd ever seen.
Her name was Mali. She had long dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. Her smile was bright white against her dark skin. Although my brother could hardly understand a word of the language the people on the island spoke, he watched her mouth move as if he knew exactly what she was saying.
I knew then as I watched them from across the street, that my brother was sunk. I watched him leave at odd hours of the day, dressed nicely and all the sand brushed off of him, and head towards town. He said she rejected him a lot at first. Even with the language barrier a snub was a snub. But eventually she took to talking to him and giggling when he tried to talk back.
She never would go anywhere with him and so he always went to her, often baring gifts like seashells or anything that looked nice that he could buy from town. She just smiled at him and he was getting frustrated, I could tell, with the lack of interest she gave him. But he was determined.
I'd met her a few times and she talked and looked at both my brother and I as if we were just any other people. There was no fear in her eyes, only laughter. I wondered if this was what life would have been like for us if we had never gotten involved in gangs. No one would have needed to look at us with fear or trepidation. No need for guns or fights. No need for death.
"Good luck," I told my brother as he disappeared down the trail towards town.
I felt the cool water slip down my bare back as I pulled myself out of the ocean and onto a rock out a few meters from shore. The surface scraped at the back of my thighs as I sat down. I kept my feet in the water and leaned back against my elbows. The water was still clear even though it was deeper here and I could see fish swimming beneath the surface, the sun reflecting off their sleek forms.
I came out here a lot to think. I felt as if there was nothing else to do but sit around and think.
I thought about the city, my life on the streets as an orphan, and the power I had lost. Most of the time I think about Bubbles and Boomer. I replayed all the time I spent with them. I came up with ways where I could have kept them. I could have stopped Boomer's death if I hadn't been so obsessed with catching Grant Audley. I could have kept Bubbles if I hadn't been too proud to quit the gang. Even if I went to prison I would have been close to her, but I was too scared to even do that.
I wasn't so strong and brave after all.
And here I was in paradise. The memories of my brother floated in the sea and thoughts of Bubbles clung to my skin like sand. It all seemed like a dream sometimes. Like Grant and Boomer dying was just some horrible nightmare. Only the scars on my skin reminded me that my life in the city ever existed.
'Do you want to forget me so badly?' Bubbles' voice asked in my head, cutting into my thoughts with possibilities like it always did.
But I couldn't forget her. It was impossible. I'd tried. Sometimes the island felt like the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. It was an escape. A haven. But then I'd remember her again and the island seemed slightly less perfect.
Sometimes I felt it would be better if I could forget her. Memories of her and Boomer weighed on me so heavily that often times I felt I would sink and drown in the ocean from all of my guilt.
'Don't feel guily,' Bubbles would have told me, if she were here, as she would run her fingers up and down my back and rest her head on my shoulder. 'Fate has dealt us both a hard hand.'
I frowned and stared up at the blue sky.
I wondered what would have happened if I had been born into a rich family, if maybe I had met Bubbles sooner, or if I had stayed in the city. All this wondering made my head spin and my chest ache.
"Butch!" I heard Brick call. I was laying on the rock and I sat up to see my brother walking down the beach, Mali following him with a sort of pleased shyness. She saw me and waved. I stood up on the rock, prepared to swim to shore when I saw her cover her mouth and giggle. "Butch!" Brick yelled harshly.
I felt myself redden when I remembered I had taken off all my clothes as I often did when I went swimming. It was pointless to change every time I went into the ocean but I wasn't used to girls being around. I chuckled and waved to Mali, suddenly awkward with my nudity. I dove back into the water, hearing Brick try to explain something to Mali in broken words as she giggled.
"Idiot," Brick smiled good-naturedly as he tossed me a towel. I grinned and nodded at Mali, but she was watching Brick with something like curiosity. "Mali is joining us for dinner. Do you think you can keep your clothes on for the whole meal?"
"Do you?" I challenged and smiled at the knowing look Brick sent me before he turned back and slung an arm around the small girl at his side. She blushed but smiled brightly up at him.
I followed them down the beach, staring down at the sand beneath my feet. My feet were now calloused from walking barefoot in the forest and shells didn't really hurt anymore but you still had to be careful.
"What were you doing out there anyway?" Brick asked over his shoulder. "Working on your tan?"
I rolled my eyes, knowing he was slightly envious that I didn't freckle like he did and now I'd grown darker than I ever had before. We didn't have a mirror so I didn't know what I looked like now with all the months gone by, but I imagined my reflection would look wild.
"I was just thinking, that's all." I told him plainly.
There was no use wondering about all those things I couldn't change. Boomer was gone and Bubbles was half a world away and probably moving on with her life. I looked out at the water where the sun was beginning to set and then up at Brick and Mali who were speaking in low tones and laughing. How did two lucky devils like us get away from their own personal hell and into heaven?
'Quit being so hard on yourself,' I heard Bubbles' voice in my head, never letting me forget her. 'I love you. Remember that.'
How could I forget?
"Why didn't we do this sooner?" Brick asked as he fell onto his mat. Bugs chirped outside and a bird was calling from the trees. My mother's picture of the beach fluttered in the wind that came through the door.
"Because we knew we'd miss the streets too much?" I replied sarcastically but Brick looked over at me, a slight frown on his face.
"You miss it too?" Brick asked, serious.
I waited for a moment, listening to the sound of the island around us, before replying. "Yeah." I smiled dryly. "We're both fucked up, aren't we?"
"Completely." Brick laughed.
We were silent for a moment, both thinking of the past.
"I'm thinking of telling Mali who I really am," Brick said. I looked over at him but he was staring up at the ceiling. "She's starting to understand me pretty well and I think it's about time I tell her some things. She deserves to know the truth."
"That's a mistake, Brick," I told him quickly. "She could tell the police."
"She won't," He smiled. "I think she really likes me. I don't know how I know, she will barely let me kiss her, but somehow I think she will understand."
"You really like her, don't you?" I asked although it was apparent. Brick had never paid much time on girls before now. Nothing like this.
"I want her to come live here with us," Brick said. "I could make her happy."
I sighed. There was no use trying to argue with him. I knew how he felt. No one else could have told me what to do with Bubbles. I couldn't stop him. I could only hope he didn't get left scarred and alone like me.
"When are you going to tell her?" I asked.
"Next week," He responded. "The moon will be full and I'll take her on a walk down the beach." He laughed sharply. "God, listen to me. The boys back at home would kill me for talking like this."
We grew quiet again because home was now something we rarely talked about. Home was something that only existed in our minds.
Brick sunk down in the sand next to me, the smell of alcohol thick on his breath and skin. He glared out at the sea. "She cried."
I said nothing.
"She fucking cried," He said bitterly. "I told her everything about our past and she cried and told me she never wanted to see me again. How could she say that? It's not like I was going to hurt her or anything."
"She doesn't know that," I told him.
"I just wanted her to know," Brick took another swing of whisky. "And now she'll never talk to me again."
"Our past isn't something that easy to understand," I reminded him and then at the tortured look he gave me I sighed. "She'll come around." I said, clapping him on the shoulder.
He shook his head. "She looked so betrayed." He took another drink. "She looked at me as if I were evil incarnated."
We were silent for a moment, both feeling slightly scorned from the girl's reaction.
"Forget her," Brick said softly, the anger suddenly gone. He sounded wounded. "I've survived worse than this."
"We both have," I agreed.
He raised up his bottle and I raised up the one I'd been drinking. "Here's to Ma and Boomer and the freedom they have now in death. They lived the same life we did and they deserve to be happy in heaven."
I frowned. We had all found freedom in one way or another. My mom and Boomer had escaped through death while Brick and I had found our own freedom on an island.
"I wonder if they're in a place like this," Brick sighed. "Heaven would look like a beach to Ma, I'm sure of it."
"I know for sure Ma is. I'm kinda worried about Boomer though," I joked. We both laughed and clinked our bottles together in a toast. I went to drink but stopped when I realized Brick had remained frozen, his eyes gazing off down the beach. I frowned and turned to see what had caught his eye.
We both watched as Mali walked towards us, the moon reflecting off her white dress that clung to her in the wind. Brick stood beside me and went to go meet her. When they reached each other she fell into his arms, brushing at his hair with her fingers and kissing at his neck.
I grinned and looked back out at the ocean, glad my brother had gotten what he wanted after all. "I guess we'll have to build another room onto the house," I muttered to myself as it seemed my own room had gained another occupant.
They both came to stand before me after a moment. "Hello," Mali smiled and said with a thick accent.
I nodded back at her and then to my brother I raised up my bottle. "To family," I toasted.
He smiled. "To freedom," He took a drink. And then he laughed and spun, lifting his girl slightly off the ground and she laughed as pretty as she looked.
I laid back in the cool white sand, the millions of stars strewn out above me. I felt small in their wake and I breathed out, quietly, "And here's to you, Bubbles," as the stars glittered above me unlike I've ever seen in my life. Her laugh echoed in my mind, much better than any star or freedom, and I closed my eyes and began to drift off to dreams where she would be beside me in the sand and for once I would truly be in paradise.
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I'll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away)
Okay, so the next chapter will be the last. It will also be the epilogue. Thanks so much to all of you for waiting for my updates, even though they take forever! I hope you liked this chapter even though it was short and not much happened.