Asher sat on the beach, wiggling his toes in the powdery-white sand, watching the sun slowly rise out of the smooth, glassy ocean. The water was calm and peaceful. The sound of the waves gently caressing the shore was only broken by the soft ruck of a pair of toucans in the palm trees above. The rich scent of hibiscus flowers mixed with the balmy, tropical air as Asher sat there, enjoying the last quiet moments before the dawn. His fingers traced tiny patterns in the fine sand, dusting the polished wood of Allison’s surfboard, resting beside him.
The trip to the island had taken a lot longer than Asher anticipated. Two airplanes, a train, and a bumpy boat ride, but they finally got there. By the time they reached the shore the night before, the sunlight had nearly disappeared into the dense forest on the far side of the small, deserted island. It had been a frantic scramble to get the tents pitched, the supplies organized, and the equipment safely secured before nightfall. After endless hours of travel, everyone had been so exhausted, they tumbled into their tents and immediately fell asleep.
Michael climbed out of the tent he shared with Asher. He settled into the soft sand and snuggled closer to his husband. “You’re up early, babe.”
“I know,” Asher grinned at Michael. “I was too excited to sleep.”
Nodding his head, Michael agreed, “Me, too,” he said, nuzzling Asher’s ear. “I can’t believe we’re really here.”
“I’m still amazed that you and Ian were able to work together without killing each other,” Asher said with a soft, throaty chuckle.
“He can be an ass, but it helps that Milo can keep him in line. So, this is the famous Turtle Island?” Michael asked, lacing his fingers between Asher’s. Their matching wedding bands were still shiny and new. A twist of platinum leaves wrapped around their ring fingers as their hands fit perfectly together.
“Technically,” Asher said, pressing a kiss to Michael’s warm lips, “It’s Daehoyian Island, off the coast of Manaru, but it got the nickname for the dozens of red hawksbill sea turtles that climb out of the ocean to lay their eggs here every year.”
“It’s truly breathtaking,” Michael whispered.
“Allison and I surfed the waves of lots of beaches while growing up, but Turtle Island was her ultimate dream destination. She would have loved it here. She had planned on surprising Paul for their honeymoon…” The words got stuck in Asher’s throat as he choked back a sob.
Michael pulled Asher into his arms and held him while he reminisced about his sister. He continued to hold his husband long after the trembling subsided.
“I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of such an amazing woman,” Michael said, and Asher softly agreed.
As the morning sky grew lighter, the rustling of sleeping bags and groggy grumbles came from several of the other tents on the beach. The only two girls on the expedition emerged from their tent first and made a frantic dash to the latrine before the boys even rolled out of bed.
“Oh no, the monsters are awake!” Asher teased, as the boys started climbing out of their tents and stretched in the salty morning air.
“What’s for breakfast?” Niko asked, plopping down on the sand beside Michael. The boy’s neon-green headphones hung from his slim, brown neck.
“Good question, but you’ll have to ask Ian. I think he’s scheduled for breakfast duty today,” Asher told the teenager.
“Did I hear someone say my name?” Ian asked, crawling from his tent, followed by his boyfriend, Milo.
Michael pointed at the group of teenagers. “I think the boys are hungry--”
“The girls are hungry, too!” LaShawnda announced, as she and Kim joined the boys around the smoldering coals from last night’s fire. Kim had become LaShawnda’s constant companion since the moment they met at the airport before boarding the plane the day before. One look at these fashion-forward divas, and everyone knew they would be inseparable.
“Six hungry teenagers? Are we absolutely crazy for bringing this many kids with us on our first trip to the island?” Asher asked Ian.
“If we run out of food, we can always eat one of the kids,” Ian teased.
Milo laughed as he pulled the lid off one of the wooden crates and grabbed several packages of dry cereal. “I don’t think we’ll have to resort to cannibalism just yet. At least we’re no longer outnumbered by these little monsters, since Tauila’s joined us.”
“The adult to teenager ratio is now even,” Ian said with a wink.
Asher wasn’t surprised when the Manaru government assigned a local guide to assist them during the trip, but he never expected her to be an exquisite tropical beauty. When she met them at the train station, her long black hair was pulled back with a pearl-inlaid clip. She was exotic, mysterious, and most important, she knew everything about Turtle Island. Asher also noticed how her dark eyes locked with Paul’s the moment they met. There was a small pang of sorrow at the thought of Paul being with someone other than Allison, but she had truly loved Paul and would have wanted him to be happy.
“Yeah, Tauila also boosts the estrogen level around here to help diffuse the overflow of testosterone from all these boys.” Kim softly giggled. Ian individually handpicked each kid for the trip. When Asher suggest bringing a few kids from Onyx Hill with the students Ian taught at Landon Academy, everyone had their doubts about how well the combination would work, but so far, it was working perfectly.
“Hey, Niko,” Kyle, one of the student’s from Landon asked, “How much juice do you have left before that iPod finally croaks?”
“Check this out.” The boy’s face lit-up as he jumped up from the sand and raced back to his tent. When Niko emerged, he was proudly carrying a small, electronic contraption.
“What is it?” The other students asked, gathering around for a closer look.
“It’s a homemade, solar-powered battery charger.” Niko smiled as he showed off his creation.
“Dude, you made that?” Kyle asked. “That’s so cool.”
“It’s also one of the reasons he was picked for this trip. Just like Niko, you were all chosen for your special contributions to the team.” Ian glanced around at the group of smiling faces.
“What about Sammy?” Kim asked, pointing at the smallest kid in the bunch. “He’s an art student and he’s failing biology. What does he have to contribute?”
“I’m not failing,” Sam protested.
“Kim!” Ian’s disappointed scowl brought a quick apology from the girl.
“Sorry, Sam,” Kim quickly muttered.
“I might not be on the dean’s list, but I’m not failing biology.” Sam’s chest puffed up as he defended himself.
“Back home,” Ian explained to the kids, “Milo and Sammy sculpted several replica turtle shells to test the flexibility of the GPS transponders. They made sure it would expand as the baby turtles grew to ensure the tiny shells would not be harmed by the tracking devices. So you see, Kim, everyone has a very important role on this trip.”
Sammy smiled when the other boys patted him on his back.
“Come on, kids, finish your breakfast so we can get started for the day.” Milo tried to corral the students.
While Asher and Ian were planning the assignments for their first day on the island, Paul and Tauila stepped out of the dense forest, walking hand in hand and joined the rest of the group.
“Is there anything I can help with?” Tauila asked, approaching Asher and Ian.
“That would be great,” Asher said, waving her over.
Asher had been thrilled to learn that Tauila had studied marine biology at Manaru University; however, Ian was worried about her trying to take over the projects he had planned for the trip.
Tauila glanced over the list on Ian’s clipboard. “Why don’t we rope off sections around the nests to make sure nobody accidentally wanders into the wrong area while taking soil samples?”
Ian looked at her with a blank face. “What?”
“Your first project,” Tauila said, pointing to his list, “If you plan on taking temperature and soil samples, don’t you want to keep track of which clutch those hatchlings came from?”
Paul started laughing when Ian began stammering, obviously realizing a flaw to his careful plan. Playfully punching his best friend in the shoulder, Paul teased Ian, “Not only is she gorgeous, but the girl has brains, too! Dude, aren’t you glad she tagged along?”
“I’m glad she’s here.” As Milo answered, he quickly slapped Ian on the ass.
“Alright, kids, gather around, so we can review the projects for today,” Michael shouted to the students kicking a soccer ball around in the sand.
The day passed quickly as the kids kept busy. Once the nests were properly roped off, the students devised a system for collecting soil samples, taking sand, water, and air temperatures, and deciding who would get the first turn with the night-vision goggles.
“How long until they hatch?” Sammy asked.
“Soon,” Ian and Tauila answered at the same time.
Ian glared at Tauila for a moment before explaining, “The eggs usually incubate for eight weeks before they hatch.”
Kim suddenly looked worried. “But we aren’t staying out here that long!”
Michael shook his head. “The turtles laid their eggs a few weeks ago.”
“So we’ll only get to see them hatch and crawl back to the ocean?” LaShawnda asked.
“That’s what these puppies are for,” Niko said, testing out the night-vision goggles. “Turtles hatch at night, so without these we would miss the entire show.”
“Yep, we’re going to tag twenty with the transmitters and track them for the next several years,” Asher told the students.
“For how long?” Kim asked.
“Some sea turtles can live longer than humans. The red hawksbill reaches maturity well into its thirties.”
“Thirty years old? Damn, that’s freaking ancient!” Niko teased.
“Watch it,” Asher warned him.
“Does anyone know the genus of the red hawksbill sea turtle?” Tauila asked.
“Eretmochelys Imbricata,” Niko quickly shouted.
“You just Googled that,” LaShawnda said, rolling her eyes.
“Nope,” Niko said, cocking an eyebrow at her. “I Googled it before I left home.”
The kids worked well together. They organized a schedule for watching the eggs each night and also came up with a few new projects for future trips. Working as a team, the daily chores were quickly finished.
As the tide came in and the waves returned, Asher let the kids take turns on Allison’s surf board. They paddled out several yards then rode the bigger waves back to shore. He watched them play in the surf while Michael and Ian ran through the evening checklist one last time before the sun disappeared into the ocean.
“Next year, we’ll need to arrange for a boat and scuba gear so we can track the turtles out to the coral reef,” Ian said.
Tauila assured Ian that she could make any arrangements they needed.
There was a long silence as the adults watched the kids enjoy the final rays of sunlight.
“We couldn’t have chosen a better group of students,” Asher proudly said, “It will be fun to come back each year and see how much they’ve grown.”
“The kids or the turtles?” Milo joked with a wink.
“Both!” Asher laughed. “This trip is just the beginning. Thanks to Allison’s dream to teach kids about sea creatures, through her spirit, this adventure is just beginning.”
I can't say thank you, enough to Rustle for being my Beta, my Editor, and my Friend! He's amazing. I don't think I could have finished without his help. Also, a huge hug to all the readers who loved this story and encourage me to continue writing when I was sick. I felt so lost and hopeless, your support was awesome. I hope you enjoyed this ride as much as I did! Let me know what you think about the story. KC