Beyond the Sea: Chapter One


The straw that broke the camel’s back was shoved up his little brother’s nose.

Quads still burning from his workout and run up to the top floor, Troy watched Tyson where he knelt on the floor in his boxers, shirtless and snorting a line of white powder off a hand mirror on the coffee table. The door to Tyson’s suite swung closed, and Troy stood there dumbly in his sweaty workout gear. Even if he’d been able to manage words that weren’t screamed curses, the Rolling Stones were blasting too loudly for anyone to hear.

The curtains in the living area were drawn tight, blocking out the sun and any telephoto lenses. Glasses and bottles cluttered every surface, the stench of cigarettes and pot thick in the air. A few girls in short-shorts and crop tops sprawled on the suite’s couches with Nick, a passable singer and the band’s best dancer. It was a cliché VH1 documentary brought to life.

The fact that one of the women at this secret party was Troy’s girlfriend sent a fresh flare of rage burning through him. He’d thought Savannah didn’t do more than drink or take a toke, yet here she was. The betrayal churned his stomach, hurt and anger warring.

One of the groupies lifted her head and stared at Troy with glazed eyes, a discarded needle on the floor near her dangling fingers. Savannah followed her gaze, leaping to her feet so quickly her boob popped out of her halter top, her long, dark curls flying. Her pupils were too big, blue eyes too bright. She wore makeup as usual, but her lips somehow seemed unnaturally red.

“Troy!” She hastily straightened herself while kicking Nick, who was completely out of it with his head back and mouth wide open. His shaggy blond hair was matted and skin sallow in the artificial light of the room’s lamps.

Nick’s partying had increased dramatically on this tour, and fuck, Troy should have done something about it. Nick was Ty’s best friend and worst influence, and Troy should have known this was coming. He should have gone to Joe, because that’s what managers were for. But he hadn’t wanted to cause trouble. He’d taken a page from his mother’s book and stuck his head in the sand.

But the shitty truth was that Joe and the label knew. Between the crew and all the staff who worked on the tour, of course they knew. The members of Next Up couldn’t sneeze without the entourage around them taking notice. They knew, and they hadn’t done a damn thing either.

Nick grunted and muttered something, and Troy wanted to rip him apart with his bare hands and then get his stupid, reckless ass into rehab along with Ty.

Savannah lunged for the iPod stereo dock on the cluttered bar, jabbing a button. In the sudden silence, Tyson’s head jerked up, and he stared at Troy from the floor, still holding the straw.

Tyson was like a mirror of Troy’s former teenage self. They shared the same wavy dark hair that Troy cropped close now and Ty let curl cherubically since every band member had to have a different style. Their dark brown eyes and tan skin were the same, faces a similar round shape down to the little cleft in their chins. But Tyson was a good four inches shorter than Troy’s five-ten and fifty pounds lighter. At twenty-two, he was still the pretty boy baby of the band, an unthreatening pinup for young girls around the world.

Troy wanted to haul him over his shoulder and take him home. Lock him away.

Tyson licked his lips, and his voice cracked. “Hey, man. We’re just…it’s no big deal, BT.”

Short for “Big T,” Troy’s fan-coined nickname that the band had co-opted. He stared down at his little brother. Cocaine dusted Tyson’s nostril. Savannah reached out, and as her red-tipped fingers settled on his wrist, Troy realized his blunt nails were close to breaking the skin of his palms where he clenched his fists. He shook her off with a sharp exhale.

She breathed shallowly. “I thought you and Tomas had to do that animal sanctuary ribbon cutting thing?”

“Greg wanted to see the koalas, so he went instead. I grabbed a workout. Thought maybe we could all hit the pool. Obviously you guys had other plans.”

Ty scoffed defiantly. “Chill, dude.”

Chill? I can’t fucking believe this,” Troy grated out like his throat was lined with broken glass. “You promised.” He stared at his brother. “You swore to me.”

Ignoring Savannah’s protests, he stepped around her and yanked Tyson to his feet with one hand, sending the remaining cocaine through the air with the other. Gripping his brother, he stared into his enormous pupils. They looked all wrong in his baby face. Roughly, he examined Tyson’s arm, looking for the track marks. He squeezed hard when he found them. “Heroin? Are you kidding me? With a coke chaser to bring you up for the concert?” Glaring toward Nick, he added, “Was this his fucking idea? I bet it was.”

Tyson swallowed audibly, his curls waving as he shook his head. “We’re just…it’s not…” He looked to Nick still slumped on the couch. Help was clearly not forthcoming. “It’s good stuff! It’s not dangerous like street shit is. It’s just for fun. It’s safe.”

“There’s nothing safe about heroin! Or coke for that matter! It doesn’t matter how pure it is.”

Puffing up, his brows drawing together, Tyson tugged his arm free. Familiar righteous indignation took over. “You’re such a killjoy. You’re supposed to be my brother, not my father. Fuck off.”

“Are you seriously bringing up Dad right now? If he was here, he’d have been first in line for the smack. He’s the fucking reason you can’t go near this shit.” He glared at Savannah. “Either of you.”

“God, she’s having fun.” Ty waved dismissively. “She’s sick of you being so fucking boring.”

It shouldn’t have hurt, but it did. Troy’s breath came hard and fast, an iron band around his lungs. He shot his gaze to wide-eyed Savannah. “Is she? Good to know.”

I’ve been bored of her for months, a little voice hissed. She was Next Up’s opening act, and as the endless tour ground on, they had fewer and fewer things to say to each other. He knew they weren’t right together, so why was he coasting along? Sure, she was beautiful—twenty-three and gorgeous with small tits and a huge voice. But he wanted more.

“Of course I’m not!” Said voice rose several octaves, her words tripping out as she reached for him. “Troy, you know I love you.”

As he stood there in a crazy expensive hotel room on the other side of the world from home, Troy didn’t know anything anymore. Fury left pinpricks as it faded, leaving the cold truth behind. “You don’t, actually. And I don’t love you either.”

Jerking, Savannah blinked. Her eyes filled with tears, and guilt slithered through him. He tried to soften his voice. “I’m not saying that to hurt you. It’s just the truth.”

“Jesus, Troy. Why are you such an asshole?” Tyson’s face twisted. “Don’t be mean to her because you’re pissed at me.”

“Is there more blow?”

They all looked to the redhead, who stretched her legs over Nick’s lap and snapped a piece of gum.

She shrugged blearily. “If you want him to make it to the show, you’d better get some.”

Pointedly not looking at Troy, Savannah cleared her throat. “Okay, let’s just handle Nick. We can deal with the rest of it later. We have a show to do.”

“No.” It was a simple word—no—but Troy couldn’t remember the last time he’d said it to Tyson and meant it.

Jesus, it had probably been five years ago at Troy’s twenty-first birthday party in Vegas when he’d refused a lap dance and Ty had bought him one anyway, not caring that people were taking video on their phones. Not caring that he was too young to be in a strip club in the first place. They’d just won video of the year at the MTV Awards, and Ty had been let in everywhere.

Because no one said no to him.  

“No,” Troy repeated, testing the word on his tongue.

All eyes but Nick’s swiveled to him, since the asshole was still passed out and snoring now.

Tyson’s bravado faltered. He tried to smile. “Look, we’ll work this out, BT. Like Savannah said, we have a show to do. This is our last night in Sydney.”

“No.” Troy inhaled deeply, purpose and determination filling him. “No,” he repeated. “You have a show to do. I’m not going to enable you or Nick another minute. I quit.”

“Whoa.” The other groupie hanging off one of the couches who’d been watching and giggling, high as a kite, stopped smiling.

“You can’t quit!” Savannah sputtered. “Next Up can’t do the show without you. There are thousands of fans coming. You can’t just leave with no notice!”

“I gave my notice that night in Perth.” He addressed Tyson, whose eyes went wide, the whites bright in contrast to his dilated pupils. “I told you! Mess with drugs again and I’m done.” A memory of hauling their father’s dead weight up the stairs filled his mind. All those nights he’d taken care of him, protecting Ty and Mom from the worst of it.

All those nights he should have said no.

“I won’t watch you piss your life away, Ty. I won’t help you do it. Won’t stick around and play my part like the good little soldier while you lie to me.”

Tyson’s lips flattened into a thin line, and he lifted his chin. “Fine. Go. We won’t miss you. We don’t need you. Greg can sing your parts.” Shaking, he spat, “You were only in the band because you’re my brother!”

Troy flinched. It was the truth—when their father had orchestrated the five-guy band and pitched them to the label, Tyson was the star and Troy was part of a package deal. He inhaled and exhaled, struggling to keep steady. “I know. I love you, Ty. Call me when you’re ready to get help.”

“I don’t need you!” Tyson screamed. Whirling, he picked up a chair and threw it into a mirrored piece of art on the wall.

As the glass shattered, Troy wanted to stay and pick up the pieces. But it would only make things worse. Another flash of their father hijacked his mind—bleary and slurring, making promises, telling lies, lies, lies.

Troy had tried so hard to fix their dad. He’d always been there to haul him up and drag him to bed. Mom slept in another room because she said Dad had restless leg syndrome. So it was Troy who’d take off his shoes and help him puke into a bucket. All the while pretending nothing was wrong. Pretending it was just a bad night, and it would be better tomorrow. Never saying a goddamned word until it was too late.

And he’d done it again in Perth a week ago when Ty had gotten fucked up on booze and coke, bouncing off the walls before crashing. Ty had made his promises, so familiar that Troy could see their father, his blond hair sticking up and dried vomit on his collar.

Guilt and sorrow and icy hot resentment compelled his feet to move.

It was time for a new approach. If he quit, Joe and the label would have to do something. They wouldn’t be able to ignore this.

Bruno, one of their massive security guards, barreled in as Troy reached the door. Bruno had done four years with XP, a drug-crazed rap group who’d torn up the charts like they did hotel rooms. There was nothing he hadn’t seen.

“Everything okay?” he asked tonelessly.

Nodding, Troy shoved past him into the hush of the hallway. Two more security guards at the end of the corridor started toward him. His stomach clenched, and he leaned a hand on the textured beige wallpaper. Oh fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Could he really do this? Would it help? Was he abandoning Ty when his baby brother needed him most? No. He had to take a stand. He had to do something dramatic. If he stayed now, Ty would know his threats were empty. Troy would go home and get their mother. Wake her up to the truth she hadn’t been able to face with his father.

He was going to puke.


He reeled away from Savannah’s touch just as the guards approached. He barked, “We’re fine!” Like he’d waved a magic wand, they retreated, their steps silent on the plush carpet.

Arms crossed, she looked up at him with glistening blue eyes. Her feet were bare, and without her usual heels she was barely over five-two. “You can’t walk out. What about the fans?”

He shoved away the sticky swell of guilt. “The fans will be a hell of a lot more upset when Ty and Nick OD. They need help, and I need to force them to get it. Force the label to do something.”

“Okay, after the tour’s over—”

“No! Now! There’s still a whole leg left in Japan and Korea. I can’t wait. I won’t.”

“But you have a contract. You’re in the biggest pop group in the world! The most popular boy band since One Direction and Backstreet put together. They won’t let you quit.”

“They can sue me. I don’t care. I’m not going to stand here with my thumbs up my ass while Ty kills himself. While he and Nick pull you into this shitshow too. Are you shooting up now? Jesus Christ, Sav. You’re smarter than this. Don’t throw your career away. Your life.

She shook her head vigorously. “I just did a little coke. I was keeping an eye on them, Troy. Making sure they stayed safe.”

“Spare me!” His nostrils flared as he breathed through the surge of fury. “Making sure they were safe would have meant making sure they didn’t do any of that toxic shit.”

Savannah opened her mouth and then closed it and pressed her too-red lips together, apparently unable to argue.

Troy wasn’t going to let her off the hook. “You know how I feel about this stuff. What we went through with my dad. What I went through. I can’t do this again. For years I’ve tried to protect my brother. I’ve tried to do all the right things and make everyone else happy.”

Her face softened. “I know, baby. That shit with your dad growing up was horrible. Ty needs you now more than ever.”

“So I can enable him? No. I’m done. With all of it.”

Her lips trembled. “Even me?”

“You don’t need me. You’ll be fine.”

“No, I won’t!”

“Come on. We don’t have anything in common. We fuck, and we watch TV, and we—it’s all…fine. Nice. But it’s not real. What do we even talk about?”

She scoffed. “Hello? Music, for one. We have a million things in common! We hit it off the day we met.”

“Yeah, the day Lara and the PR flacks introduced us? They orchestrated our relationship from the get-go. Ohhh, the strong, silent, mysterious bad boy is finally settling down, falling for the opening act with the voice like honey. Savannah Jones tames Troy Tanner and wins his heart.”

She clenched her jaw, but then fresh tears spilled over her pale cheeks, streaking her mascara. “Didn’t I? Or did you never actually care about me at all?”

He sighed, guilt returning in a rush. “I do care about you. Of course I do. I want you to be happy. But I don’t think I’m the one. Hell, you know I’m not the mysterious bad boy who barely talks. I’m not who they manufactured. So how can I be the right guy for you when I don’t even know who the fuck I am?”

“So it’s not me, it’s you.” She swiped at her eyes. “Right. Okay. I hope you can find yourself and all that shit. Have a nice life.” Spinning on her heel, she stalked down the hall. At her room, she rattled the door handle. “Someone fucking open this!”

As one of the security guards hustled to comply, Troy hesitated. Even if he didn’t love Savannah, he didn’t want it to end this way. She was a good person and hella talented, and she deserved someone who really wanted to be with her. He took a step, but then she was gone, the door slamming and the security guard returning to his post.

Someone cleared his throat, and Troy turned to find Bruno in the entryway of Tyson’s room. “Everything okay, BT?”

No. Everything is a fucking disaster. But Troy simply nodded. “Thanks. Sorry for all the shit you guys have to deal with.” He stuck out his hand, and Bruno shook it, a frown appearing on his meaty face.

With a deep breath, Troy turned to the private elevator and jabbed the call button. He could do this. He had to do this. He’d failed his father by not taking a stand, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

# # #

“You know—the broody one in the black leather jacket. Never says much in interviews.”

“This presupposes that I’ve ever had occasion to watch an interview with…what are they called again?”

Slouched in a chair at the Sydney airport after midnight, Troy studied the reflection in the large window looking out on the tarmac. The pilots stood several feet behind discussing him quietly. The private jet he’d rented was flying out of a small terminal separate from the main three, and he’d fortunately been able to shuffle in without being noticed. The only other people in the terminal had been businessmen who surely couldn’t have cared less who he was even if they’d recognized him.

He’d stuffed his stupid leather jacket in his enormous suitcase and worn a gray hoodie instead, which was clearly a smart choice. He tugged his baseball hat lower on his head. There was a wide pole behind his chair, and it seemed the pilots thought they were alone.

The woman sipped from her paper cup of coffee. “Next Up. Are you sure you don’t live in a cave? Is that why you’ve never invited me round?” She looked Filipina to him, short and pretty like his mom. Her accent sounded like the ones he’d heard in New Zealand—”next” came out like “nixt.”

Troy glanced around the deserted terminal. It was unnerving to be completely by himself; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been truly alone in public. Shit, he was hardly ever alone in private either. There was always someone there, whether it was a girlfriend or Ty or one of the guys in the band, or the seemingly endless stream of record label staff.

Troy had never minded too much since he liked being with people, and especially since when he was alone, he started thinking. When he started thinking, he wondered how the hell he’d gotten to twenty-six without making any decisions about his own life. His father had made them all until he died, and the label had picked up where he’d left off.

Troy floated along in the current, and what did he have to complain about? He was a millionaire. So what if Next Up’s music wasn’t the kind he wanted to do?

He could hear his father’s voice even now: Be grateful for everything you and your brother have been given. This is the American dream!

Rubbing his hands over his thighs, Troy tried to calm his pulse. Was he throwing it all away? Was he ruining everything for Tyson too?

The male pilot opened a file folder. “Aren’t you a little outside their target demographic, Paula?”

Paula flipped him the bird. “I’m barely thirty. Okay, so I’m a little old for boy bands. But hey, thirty’s the new twenty.”

Groaning, the man muttered, “Terrific. Living through my twenties once was bad enough.” His accent was American, surprisingly.

Troy had lucked out in finding a private jet to go international on short notice, and he glanced at the terminal doors, expecting the cavalry of Joe and assorted minions to charge in any moment. They likely didn’t think he’d actually leave the country, but he should still get moving. Yet he was rooted to the spot as the pilots continued talking.

Paula said, “This is going to be a huge scandal. Their world tour isn’t over yet. They still have Asia to get through.”

“You really do know an alarming amount about this boy band.” The man spoke with mock solemnity. “Captain, you know we have a strict policy against sexually harassing our passengers. Just for the record.”

Going up on her tiptoes, she mimed pouring her coffee over his dark, neatly trimmed hair, garnering a low chuckle. They both wore the standard uniform of navy pants and jackets over white shirts. Troy wondered where their hats were as his mind whirled with half-formed thoughts.

God, it really was going to be a scandal. The band might be on the other side of their popularity peak, but they still had millions of fans. Before he’d turned off his phone to avoid the cavalcade of texts and voice mails—from everyone but Tyson, Nick, and Savannah—his Twitter had blown up with get-well messages. Apparently Ty had announced from stage that Troy had the flu, but that excuse wouldn’t hold up for long.

Before shutting down, he’d texted the same message to Joe, Greg, and Tomas:

Ty and Nick are addicts. If they don’t get into rehab, I’m quitting the band for good. Ask Savannah if they won’t tell you the truth. She knows the score. I’ll talk to you soon.

The guilt at bailing on the concert roiled his empty stomach, but he undoubtedly had the label’s attention now. There was a week before their next show and the start of the Japanese leg. Troy would go home, get his mother, and bring her to Tokyo to confront Ty. He’d call Nick’s parents too and see if they could do a group intervention.

Next Up would have to postpone the Asian concerts, which really sucked because they had so much family coming to see them in Manila, but getting clean was way more important.

“I wonder if something happened with his girlfriend. You know, Savannah Jones? Has that song about texting that gets stuck in your head for days.”

“I haven’t had the pleasure.”

“She’s a stunner. Great looking couple. He’s never been with a girl this long before—more than a year. He was so heartbroken after Delia Tate dropped him for James Franco, the poor thing.”

Troy resisted the urge to snort. He’d dated Delia for a couple months, and it had been fun. But when she’d fallen for Franco, Troy had wished her well. Lara the PR guru had created a fiction about Troy’s broken heart, which of course appealed to all the women in the world who wanted to kiss it better. Troy had been quieter than usual in public, wearing sunglasses everywhere, even inside. He’d felt like such a douche, but he’d done as he was told.

“Okay, we should be ready to go.” The man snapped the folder shut. “As soon as our passenger and his entourage show up.”

“Right here.” Troy stood and turned. “No entourage, I’m afraid.” He ignored Paula’s reddening cheeks and extended his hand with a smooth smile. “It’s nice to meet you.” He’d played the role so many times over the years it was second nature. Always polite, but never revealing too much. Staying quiet and letting Ty have the spotlight.

Clearing her throat, she took his hand with confidence. “Captain Paula Mercado. A pleasure to meet you. This is my first officer, Brian Sinclair.”

“Thanks for doing this on such short notice.” Troy turned to the other pilot. The slim man was roughly mid-thirties and a little taller than Troy, probably just over six foot. He had a firm handshake and the calm, in-control demeanor Troy associated with pilots.

Paula said, “Happy to help. It’s just you tonight? We assumed you’d have a few people with you. Let’s take care of your baggage and get going.”

“So we can leave now? They said they weren’t sure…” Thank God. By morning he might have lost his nerve or be busted by Joe.

“No curfew on jets this small, so you don’t have to wait. We just needed to rustle up a first officer since it’s a long hop.” She motioned toward Brian. “Lucky for us, we’ve got the best in the business. Far too talented a pilot to play second fiddle if you ask me, but he never does.”

Brian ignored her teasing before leading the way with a polite nod to Troy. Troy followed them through the back corridors of the terminal and across the tarmac to the private jet. It was far too much money for him to spend, particularly since he’d just lost his source of income and would likely be sued by the label for breach of contract, but the thought of flying commercial to LA was unbearable. All the questions and photos would be too much. He had to get home under the radar and talk to his mother. Calling her wouldn’t work—Troy had to be there so she couldn’t hide from this.

They climbed a little staircase up to the small jet, and he got settled in the large lounge area. There were padded chairs with seat belts in groups of two along the sides of the airplane. He’d asked for the smallest plane they had, and this one sat eight. When the record label footed the bill, he’d flown on private jets plenty of times, but it felt a little ridiculous and stupidly extravagant to have the whole plane to himself. But he couldn’t back out now. He chose a seat by a window, watching the hint of orange on the horizon as the sun disappeared.

The cockpit door was still open, and Paula called back, “All buckled up, mate?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Won’t be long now.” She closed the door.

As the jet powered up and taxied the runway, Troy gripped the armrests. He was really doing this. He was leaving the band. Leaving Tyson. Savannah. The press were going to eat him alive. Fuck, was he doing the right thing?

This was the first time he’d made an actual decision about anything more important than fries or a baked potato. He hadn’t protested when they’d cut his hair and dressed him head to toe in black. He hadn’t argued when he wasn’t allowed to go bowling because it wasn’t cool or mysterious enough. When they insisted to the media that his dad’s death was a heart attack, he toed the party line.

He’d drifted along, performing like a trained seal. It was time to take control of his life.

Over the years, he’d ridden a hundred planes. Probably a thousand. But this time, Troy paid attention, savoring the little details as the wheels left the ground—the whir and clunk of the landing gear as it retracted into the plane’s belly, the little dips of turbulence as they rose, the lights of Sydney receding as home beckoned.

“Can I get you a beverage? Something to eat? We have quite a few selections.”

Blinking, Troy turned away from the oval window where he’d pressed his forehead, watching the world go by even though it was black outside. Brian stood by his chair with a bland, vaguely pleasant expression—not a smile, but not a frown. Troy recognized it as the mask he often wore so he wouldn’t look unhappy or pissed in paparazzi photos. It’d taken a couple of years to train himself out of his resting bitchface.

“No thanks. Not right now.” He should probably eat something, but didn’t know if he’d keep it down.

“Are you sure?” Brian’s expression didn’t change, but he lowered his voice a notch. “You look like you could use a drink.”

“Thanks, but I’m good.” Troy supposed since he’d said he didn’t need a flight attendant, the copilot was stuck doing the job.

“Please let us know if you need anything. We’ll be stopping briefly in Honolulu to refuel on the way to LA. Can I give you a tour of the plane? There’s a sleeping area, and of course a bathroom, shower, and—”

“I’m good. Thanks, though.”

With a nod, Brian disappeared back into the cockpit and closed the door behind him.

After a while, Troy chugged a bottle of water and ate a package of cookies that sat in a basket in the little kitchen. Normally he watched TV shows or movies on his iPad on planes, but after trying three different episodes of Modern Family, some terrible CW show about teenage sea creatures that Savannah had told him he “must see,” and a movie about a space disaster, he gave up and changed into track pants and a T-shirt before settling into one of the sleeping berths and pulling the curtain.

He normally only drank beer, but maybe he should down a couple little bottles of vodka to knock himself out.

A memory of the gust of alcohol on his dad’s breath filled his senses. A few extra drinks every night had started it all. No, he’d stick to beer.

Closing his eyes, Troy tried very hard not to think about anything at all.

# # #

His heart seizing and a gasp on his lips, Troy crashed back down to the mattress. There had been some turbulence for a little while, but nothing like this. As the plane shuddered and took another dip, adrenaline-fueled fear evaporated the cobwebs of the dumb dream he’d been having about not being able to go down a staircase. He reached for the curtain, tearing the fabric as he tumbled out, jolted to the floor.

Seat belt. Seat belt! Fuck. As the plane veered from side to side, shaking and creaking, he crawled to the closest chair and dragged himself up. Fingers trembling, he braced his bare feet and yanked the seat belt around his waist, struggling with buckle. He couldn’t quite—

Troy slammed onto the carpet. Pain radiated from his cheekbone, and he scrabbled for something to hold. The plane bumped and jumped like an old car speeding over potholes, and he swallowed a scream. Another violent rattle tossed him to the foot of another chair. He hauled himself up, his whole body seizing and bile rising in his throat.

He was screaming now as he searched for the seat belt. Troy’s fingers closed over one end of it, and he bit his tongue, tasting coppery blood as he fumbled for the other half. Panting, he realized he wasn’t screaming after all—it was the shriek of alarms beyond the cockpit door.

Troy’s ears popped. The plane was descending. No, more than that, it was nosediving. Muffled shouts from the pilots joined the ear-splitting sound of the alarms. His heart was going to explode. He couldn’t breathe.

Get it, get it, get it!

He barely heard the click as the belt finally locked around his hips. Tugging on the strap, he made it so tight his legs tingled. He whapped his forehead against the window, squinting desperately in the early dawn light, breath coming in little gasps.

He could only see gray, an awful metallic screech filling his ears as they plummeted. Going to die!

Squeezing his eyes shut, visions of family tore through his mind. Mom the last time he’d seen her, pinching his cheeks and saying he was too skinny: “Payat payat ka, no? Kain na tayo!” Auntie Gloria and Uncle Jojo giving him the guitar his father had later taken away. Dad on a good day, driving up the 101 with the top down and the Stones blasting. And he saw his baby brother, shrieking with laughter and gripping his arm as they reached the top of an old wooden rollercoaster.

I’m sorry, Ty. I love you.

The air felt paper thin, his lungs not working. The plane shuddered, making an ungodly sound. Alarms wailed. As they plunged back to earth, he did the only thing left.

“Our father, who art in heaven…”

Copyright © Keira Andrews

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