"Are you sure? I have to go now, the other kids are probably waiting already. But if you want me to stay, I can do that. I can tell the parents something came up?"
"It's fine. Really, I just had a bad dream. I'm gonna get up soon as well."
She smiles at me, but I know her mother's sense tells her I'm not fine. It's weird, on the one hand, she always knows exactly what I'm going through, but yesterday she didn't even realise I needed her after Matthew said all those things about me. "Okay then. Let me know if anything is wrong."
Kai is impatiently waiting just outside. "I can stay with Ryan?"
"No, you have to go to school." She leaves the hut.
"Aww, why? It's supposed to be summer holiday!"
Mom ruffles through his hair. "I already explained it. I look after the kids so all the parents can help around in the camp. Besides, it isn't really like school, is it?"
I sit upright and rub my eyes, attempting to wake up fully. I'd rather stay in bed all day long, it's not like I can do anything else. I'm not going fishing today, that's boring when you're alone. The only thing that even sounds remotely fun is to explore the island. To head into the forest and wait for the natives to find me.
"If school is to make sure parents can help in the camp, then why can't I stay with Ryan? You're busy anyway."
I grin. Seriously, that dude is a notch too smart for my mother. I would have loved to see her reaction, but she is just around the corner. "I wouldn't mind," I say from inside the hut. Honestly, I think it's good to have the boy here, or I might actually walk out into the woods on my own.
"Fine." She sighs out loud. "But he's your responsibility now, Ryan."
"I know. Kids are waiting, remember."
When she is gone, Kai sits down next to me. "What's wrong?"
I smile. "Nah, I'm just tired. But it's okay, let's play a game."
He bites his lip. "Is it because of the things Milan's dad said yesterday?"
"What do you mean?" I frown.
"When he was screaming at Ronny, you squeezed my hand really hard. Were you scared?"
I grab one of the bags of peanuts we got for breakfast, just like every morning. "No, I wasn't."
"Then were you sad?"
Something inside of me wants to tell everything to Kai. Tell him I'm gay, that I told Milan about it and how he just ran off afterwards. But I can't. He wouldn't understand it.
"The things he said, they were about you, weren't they?"
I nod. "I think so."
"And they weren't nice, were they?"
Slowly, I shake my head, wondering how much he already understands. I'm not even sure how much ten-year-olds are supposed to pick up. Does he know what being gay means? Does he understand words like queer?
"Why doesn't he like you?"
I smile. "I'm not sure, Kai. But let's talk about fun things now! You got a day off, what do you wanna do?"
He grins. "I was thinking we could play a game."
Suddenly he looks down. "I would love to play some soccer, but we don't have a ball."
"Hmm, isn't there a way to make our own ball?"
"I dunno, is there?"
"We could also work on the cross for grandpa Jon?"
The boy beams. "Yeah, of course! Let's do that!"
The whole day we work on the cross. First, we search for nice pieces of wood, then I explain the techniques to Kai, after which we start cutting. He keeps telling me things about his grandfather, which I then try to add in a way to the cross to make it personal. He had enjoyed playing cards for example, so I added a king of spades to the carving.
I really enjoy the time with my little brother and for the first few hours and I completely forget about the stuff that happened yesterday. Then, I notice Milan helping Margareth, carrying firewood to the fireplace. I watch as he puts it down, laughs at a joke the woman makes and walks away to get another load. In a way, it stings that he's having fun.
"What's wrong with you and Milan?" Kai asks.
"You don't wanna talk about it with me?"
He sounded sad, so I squeeze his shoulder. "I would love to, but I don't really understand what's wrong myself. Nothing to worry about though, friendships always have ups and downs."
"Our friendship only has ups!" the boy exclaims.
"But we don't have a friendship," I reply and watch as his happy face disappears like snow in the sun. "We're family!"
He giggles. "That's cool!"
That evening, when we're all gathered around the campfire eating our improvised dinner of grated carrots, olives and raisins, with beef jerky and bread, Oliver suddenly stands up. "Ladies and gentlemen, can I get your attention, please?" He waits until we stop talking and chewing. "The group that is looking for water hasn't returned yet. Since we're rationing the water and with the water we're gaining from the plastic bags, we managed to squeeze out another two days of water. But still, now we only have enough for another five or maybe six days."
I glance at Ronny, who is sitting in between his mom and Milan. He looks pale and doesn't even seem to realise what's going on. Looking at Milan, I notice how he quickly averts his gaze. He was watching me.
"Today we've been discussing what to do if we run out of water." He points towards the new couple. "Henry and Karen told us they know of a creek somewhere in the forest. But they're not sure exactly where. We're thinking maybe some people should try to find it."
"And who do you think wants to venture out there, after the others haven't returned?" Margareth asks.
"It's not a question of wanting to do it, we need this or we all die out here," Matthew Bachmeier says.
"Exactly," mister Grumpy adds. "I'm gonna pick the people who will go. If you disobey, you won't get any water from now on."
Some gasps rise from the camp. "Why do you get to choose?" Rick Rostley asks. "Let me guess, you're not going to pick yourself, are you?"
Oliver grimaces. "I choose since I'm the only person capable of keeping you bunch together. I'm your leader. And that's also the reason I can't go out there, you'd kill yourselves before I return with water."
"I cannot recall when we chose you as our leader." It's the first time the adolescent guy - from the couple that sneaked off into the forest a few times before, to do what anyone would expect from people in their twenties - speaks up.
"And you believe you would be a better leader?" Oliver smirks.
Slowly I realise I've been frowning all this time. I try to put on a straight face immediately, since I have a feeling I'd rather not have Oliver notice my concerns. I peek over at Milan, who once again immediately averts his gaze from me. Honestly, what's his problem. If he wants to apologise, I'm all ears.
"Let's not fight over who's leader or not," Matthew says. "We need the water."
"And Rick and Chris will be the ones who will gather it. Together with Henry, who will try to guide you." Oliver looks like he is contemplating something. "Now I come to think of it, I believe we need Rick here at the camp. How about you, Jason, go in his place?"
The guy who just asked who chose Oliver as the leader looks up shocked. The girl, who I suppose is his girlfriend, suddenly looks scared and grabs his hand. "Seriously? You are trying to punish me for speaking up against you?" the guy asks. "Pathetic."
"Are you saying no?"
"Of course I am! It's a suicide mission."
"Well, then you're not getting any water. Get your own."
"What the hell? You're crazy, man." The guy stands up, and so does Matthew. I look at everyone in the circle around the fire; they all look apprehensive.
"Maybe we can think of another solution?" Margaret offers, but no one seems to listen to her. Everyone's eyes are fixated on the three main characters of this gradually evolving fight.
Casey also stands upright. "I know this sucks, but Oliver is right. We need someone to lead us. And we also need the water."
Rick nods. "Someone has to go." I wonder if he really suddenly approves of Oliver being our leader, or if he just doesn't want to get the water himself.
Mom looks like she is deciding whether she wants to add something to this discussion, but she chooses not to.
"Isn't there someone who wants to volunteer? Or else pick anybody who doesn't really help in the camp? Who we don't need?" Chris suggests. "I have a wife and kids. I don't want to go."
"Guys, we need the water," Casey says and Oliver nods.
"As I said, there is no choice," he says. "We're doing it this way or we'd die!"
"Why didn't we drink the water his son got us?" he nods at Ronny, who still doesn't look too involved in what's happening.
"Now who's the crazy one?" Matthew cackles. "Look at him! He's fucking sick because he was stupid enough to drink that water! If you want to end up like him, go on."
It looks like Jason wants to say something, but he doesn't and instead sits down. Defeated. "You are nuts," he mumbles.
"If you don't want to go, you don't have to," Margareth says.
"What the…" Matthew already sat down again, but now stands up once more. "He has to! Do you want to die here, you…" He stops talking.
"Let's divide the water. Everyone gets his or her share, okay?"
"And then?" Oliver asks.
"Then we can decide how to proceed. If someone doesn't want to help the camp, he or she can figure out what to do on their own."
"I'd rather die here because of a lack of water," Jason starts hesitantly, but then continues more secure of his case. "I'd rather die here, than out there while looking for water for you lot."
"Henry and Karen survived for over a week. What are you whining about?"
When I look around the camp once more, I realise the Russian woman was watching everything, without understanding it at all. She catches my gaze and shrugs. I smile to tell her everything is okay, although I don't completely believe it.
"I think we should all think about this overnight and get some sleep," mom finally speaks up. "And tomorrow we can gather and talk more."
Everyone nods. We eat our dinner silently, while continuously looking around suspiciously. I believed our group of survivors was tight and considerate, but now no one seems to trust each other anymore. We're scared. This happens to people when they're fearing for their life, I think to myself, with a sour taste in my mouth.
It is this exact moment my most famous painting - wilderness - was all about, Tom. I remember on our fifteenth wedding anniversary you asked what it meant, to which I said it was about the animals on the island. I lied. The blue sea with the red mountains in the background are the two sides that were created on this day. The three green trees in the centre were my mother, Kai and me, right in between the blue and the red. Those two herds of running black deer were in no way a visualisation of the scary animals on the island, but it was the sickness that was slowly creeping through the camp. I think people knew there was more to this painting than I told them, that's why it became popular in the first place.
Most of my paintings were about the island. I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone about what happened there, so painting was a way to cope with it, I think. Further on in the story, I'll explain what the hut with the empty bed means. And why I made the red sun or American bear, for example. Everything has a meaning and I'll try to explain it all. But first I have to tell you about my first interaction with Milan since the drama.
This is the first time since the crash I actually think about the possibility of dying here. That's weird, isn't it? I just automatically believed we would get rescued fast, and as long as we were still stuck here, we would simply survive. Like in the films. And we did that; surviving. Except for Rick the bachelor who just vanished. Although chances are he is also still surviving somewhere on the island, right?
The next day is crazy. It starts as any day did, but this time we knew we were to gather in the evening, and had to make a choice what to do next. I think everyone knows the camp will split in two. Two camps with their own water. Why is it so hard to stick together?
Kai still doesn't have to go to school, so we work more on the cross. It's already getting really beautiful. I believe mom lets Kai stay with me because she feels I need it. As I said, she has this weird mother's sixth sense sometimes. Just like yesterday, I catch Milan staring in our direction a few times.
"Hey guys, what are you doing?"
Looking up, I see Trenton. "Please don't talk about water."
"You said water you doing," I explain and add a sarcastic chuckle.
He rolls his eyes. "Hilarious!"
"We're making a cool cross for my grandpa Jon!" Kai jumps up from the sand. "Look." He holds out the stick he was cutting.
"That looks beautiful!" Trenton sits down next to me and watches us cutting for a few minutes.
"I see you and Milan aren't talking anymore."
"Yep." Does this mean we're not going to talk about the drama in the camp?
For a split second, he looks over at Kai, as if he wanted to ask me if I was okay with having him here. He's making it quite obvious he wants to talk to me about it, which is weird considering he's normally very quiet. I shrug. I don't care what Kai learns about me. We will stay close no matter what. That boy is still unspoiled by opinions and adult problems. I bet he doesn't care about sexuality, as long as he likes the person, he's okay with it. Sometimes I wonder what this world would look like if we were more like kids; unprejudiced.
"I was there when Milan's dad said those things about you."
I nod. "I know. Everyone was there."
"It was an assholish thing to do. Is that a word; assholish?"
I look over at my little brother, but he doesn't seem to notice us. He's focussed on his task. "If it isn't a word yet, they should invent it just for him," I say, grinning.
"I guess that's the reason you guys aren't talking anymore, is it?"
I nod again.
"I knew homophobic parents raised him, but I never expected that learning the truth would change anything between you guys."
The truth? I know I'm obvious about it sometimes, but why is he so certain about it, all of a sudden?
Trenton shrugs apologetically. "Before the crash, I was on the bench behind you and your mom, when we were waiting to board the plane. I heard your conversation about them and also your mom's comment. So, yeah, I knew from the beginning. I should've told you, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I don't care, I'm normally really open about it. And everyone always seems to know it about me anyway, so I don't even try to hide it."
He grins. "Yeah, I get that. Anyway, his reaction sucks, dude."
"I know. But I don't really blame him, I guess. It's not his fault he's raised that way." I turn around and for a second I scan the camp until I find him. He's guiding his brother through the camp, who looks to be in an even worse state than yesterday. Milan doesn't notice me looking at him, and for a few seconds, I even forget Trenton and Kai are here with me. My body is mixing so many emotions. I feel sadness for his disapproval, happiness when I think back to our good times, anger for how he hurt me and still deep down there is some admiration. Even though he hurt me, he managed to get out of his parents' claws so well. He's already a better person than his parents ever will be. I admire that. And next to these sentiments, there is also this inexplicable feeling of love. The love that came so randomly and fucked everything up. It's nauseating to feel all this at the same time.
"How do we know this is an island?" Trenton suddenly asks.
I wonder how long I was lost in thoughts for, put the cross down and look at him questioningly. "What do you mean?"
"Well, everyone keeps saying we're stranded on an island, but how do we know? We never saw the other side, we never traced the beaches and got back to where we started."
"I actually never thought about it that way. I think we suspect this is an island since no one came to rescue us yet."
It looks like the boy has to think about that for a minute. "I guess… But still, what if it's just some kind of peninsula we crashed on?"
"We could just walk to the closest city and contact the US embassy!"
I laugh. "If there is an embassy within walking distance, I bet they would've noticed us by now."
"Maybe you're right. I just wonder why everyone believes this is an island without questioning it. I think it's because of all the TV shows we watch about people crash-landing on islands. As if it's impossible to crash anywhere else!"
I look at him and wonder, not for the first time today, why he suddenly is becoming more talkative. He used to be so quiet. I have little time to think about that, as Casey clashes two pieces of metal against each other: the sign that dinner is ready. I swallow: hell is going to break loose tonight.
As the three of us stroll towards the campfire, I catch Oliver looking at me with a weird smirk on his face and I immediately know the leaders have another announcement to make.