Unedited. Subject to copyright.
“No, you’re not doing it.” Galloway jerked a hand angrily through his hair. “What did we agree on this morning?”
All four of us stood around the pile of bamboo and flax we’d gathered. Conner, Pippa, and I had been the main savaging team seeing as Galloway couldn’t navigate the tree root and slippery leaves of the small island jungle.
We’d done our agreed part but I couldn’t stop working just to pacify some stupid man’s need to provide.
Planting my hands on my hips, I hid my smile as Pippa did the same. “We’re all going to live in it. It makes sense we all help build it.”
Pippa squeaked, “Stop being such a bear. I want to build. I like Legos. I can build.” She mimicked me, cocking her chin in the quintessential way children can.
Ever since her crying episode yesterday, she’d never let me out of her sight. When I went to grab a few coconuts for breakfast, she trotted beside me. When I went to the water’s edge to rinse out yet more shells for bowls and tools, she came with me. And every tree branch and bamboo sprout I hacked at with the Swiss Army knife she was never far away.
With her acting as my personal shadow, I had to be very careful not to go to the area where I knew her parents lay. Conner had pointed me into the general direction. I’d been tempted to investigate to see if I could bury them. But I didn’t have the courage to stare a decomposed corpse in the face.
Not after everything we’d survived.
Galloway suddenly burst into laughter. “God, it looks like this island already has a queen and princess.”
Conner snickered, dropping his armful of flax fronds onto the beach. “Don’t call her a princess. She isn’t a princess.”
“Am too.” Pippa stuck out her tongue.
Conner leered toward her, his hands out to tickle. “Are not.”
“I am!” She didn’t drop her hands from her hips, but she did waltz backward to avoid his threat of ticking.
“Princesses don’t fart.”
“I don’t fart.” Her mouth clamped together. “I don’t. Tell him, Stelly.”
Galloway grinned. “Ah, now you’ve earned a nickname.”
Now wasn’t the time to tell him I’d had many nicknames granted throughout my life. Most of them weren’t very nice and revolved around my unwillingness to socialize. Party Pariah and Scaredy Stelley too name a few.
My parents had named me after the movie they’d been to see on their first date: the remake of Great Expectations. Only her name was Estella and they preferred Estelle.
I laughed. “Pip didn’t fart. Everyone knows girls don’t fart.”
Conner rolled his eyes and cupped his hand beneath his armpit. Making a loud farting noise, he announced, “They do, too.”
Galloway clapped his hands. “Alight, forget I said anything. No queens or princesses here.”
Deciding to follow the children’s example of how to stay light-hearted even in a trying situation, I pouted. “But you just called me a queen. That makes me your ruler. I’m not forgetting something as important as that.”
I’d meant it as light-hearted but Galloway froze.
His eyes went from normal to intense, searing me with a flash of blue.
I didn’t know what happened but my insides liquefied and a flurry of angel fish and anemones entered my stomach.
Glancing away, Galloway broke the spell before clearing his throat as if nothing had happened. “Queen or not, you’ll do as you’re told.”
I did my best to ignore the pull and twisty awareness between us. “Do as I’m told? I haven’t done what others demanded since since I was ten.”
“You’re lucky, Stel.” Conner smirked. “We get told…” He smile faded. “We got told to do stuff all the time.”
The reminder that jokes seemed a bit morbid when others had lost their lives on this island, sobered us.
I slouched. “Fine. You do what you’re going to do and we’ll go get something for dinner. You happy?”
Galloway nodded. “Much. Thanks.”
I eyed up the pile of sticks, logs, and bamboo. “You sure you have enough there.”
“Enough to make a decent start. Yes.”
“And you don’t want us to help make rope to bind everything together? Or combined strength to hold things in place?”
Galloway crossed his arms—or as much as he was able to while leaning on his crutch. “Nope.”
“Fine.” I shrugged. “Suit yourself.” Moving toward the metal spade and fire hardened spear, I summoned Pippa and Conner. “Come on guys. Come help me find a feast.”
With the children beside me, I didn’t look back at Galloway.
My heart hurt to think of him struggling on his own when there was no need. I wanted to learn how to build, too. I was curious as well as anxious to help.
But he wanted to do this on his own…I wouldn’t stop him.
Pippa and Conner ran ahead.
I followed them.