Blurb: NEVER LET YOU GO
For ten years, Sydney and her husband, Craig, tried to have a baby without success. Sydney is devastated when Craig tells her he’s met someone else. Desperate to escape, she books a flight to the Bocas del Toro Islands in Panama. She hopes the remote location will help her cope with being abandoned and her lost dream of becoming a mother. Her spontaneous decision brings about a surprising change in the course of her life.
Sydney stared out the airplane window, watching mile after mile of brilliant blue Caribbean Sea pass below. The expanse of disappearing water seemed to symbolize the life she’d thought she could trust slipping out from under her. Sydney’s husband of twelve years had fallen in love with someone else. He hadn’t given up on the hope of a child, he’d said.
Neither have I, Sydney thought miserably as she recalled the fertility tests, injections, and numerous times she’d laid on her back with her legs up in the air after sex. Despite the discomfort and the inconvenience of it all, she’d tried every technique without complaint, never losing hope that one day she’d hold a bright-eyed baby in her arms. Until the man I believed was my partner for life shattered all my dreams. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she dabbed them away with a tissue.
She’d expected to receive the usual peremptory peck on the cheek that morning. Instead, Craig had said he was leaving her on his way out the door to work. Once he’d shut the door behind him, Sydney had stood alone in their house, still wearing her bathrobe, grappling with what he’d just said. He’d be picking up some clothes later and had hired a mover to pick up the rest of his things and take them to his girlfriend’s house. She’d stood there, too stunned to ask him why he was doing this to her or when he’d stopped loving her or if he wanted to consider counseling first. Once he was gone, she realized she no longer wanted to ask him those questions. She didn’t want to have anything more to do with a man who could tell her he was leaving in such a casual tone of voice—as if he was saying he was stepping out for the mail—when it felt like he had plunged a knife into her chest and then walked away to let her bleed to death.
It wasn’t as if her husband had ever driven her wild in bed or read her romantic sonnets, but the most passionate relationships Sydney had experienced had been with men who disappeared as soon as the lust diminished. Craig was even-tempered, financially stable and a person she could depend on. So she’d thought. Sydney wondered if this girlfriend offered Craig the sexy sizzle that had been missing from their relationship along with the possibility of a child. Maybe if I’d initiated sex more often…
For more than an hour, she stood there like an open-mouthed zombie, pitying herself. Then all at once, anger surged up inside of her and Sydney clenched her fists and gritted her teeth, wanting to punch holes in the walls and break glass. She had to be anywhere else except home. Anywhere she couldn’t see his clothes draped over the back of the chair and smell his musky aftershave. Anywhere she couldn’t see the unmade bed where he’d probably bedded his girlfriend on afternoons she wasn’t home.
To gratify her frustration, Sydney had picked up a Talavera vase Craig had given her on their tenth anniversary and threw it with all her might against the living room wall, letting out a satisfied groan as it shattered into thousands of colorful pieces. Then she had packed a small suitcase, jumped into the car and run several yellow lights during her drive to the airport. With no plane reservations, no idea where she planned to go—she’d approached the ticket counter with a single carry-on and asked what flights departing within the next two hours had open seats.
“There’s one seat left for Panama City,” the attendant had said. “But I’m talking about the country Panama—not the panhandle of Florida.”
“Great,” Sydney had said, slipping her credit card out of its sleeve. Acting on a whim had felt so freeing after so many years of planning days around Craig’s schedule. She’d felt like an inexperienced skydiver who had just jumped from a plane for the first time. She hadn’t been sure she could open the parachute, but at least she’d been brave enough to leap. “But that’s a big city. I’d like to end up somewhere remote.”
The woman had suggested Isla Colon—one of the Bocas del Toro islands off the Panamanian coast.
“That works for me.” A minute later, the attendant had handed Sydney a boarding pass to Panama City.
“Here’s your confirmation for your connection. Just go to the AirPanama counter in the domestic terminal to get your boarding pass to Isla Colon.”
The flight attendant’s perky voice broke into her thoughts. “Would you like anything to drink?”
Sydney shook her head. “No, thank you, I’m fine.”
The woman sitting beside her also turned down the attendant’s drink offer, her attention occupied by the squirmy blond-headed baby boy in her arms. Sydney tried to stifle the wave of jealousy that washed over her as she imagined for a minute what her and Craig’s son would have looked like. Dark hair, big brown eyes, chubby cheeks. She pushed the image aside and took a closer look at the woman’s child. He’s adorable. Curly locks of hair, blond, almost white, clung to his round face. His cherub cheeks were rosy, his eyes dark and bright and his plump body was swathed in a baby blanket.
“You’ve got your hands full there,” said Sydney. “You can use my tray if you like.”
The woman turned toward her, smiling appreciatively. Freckles sprinkled across her pale face, her blonde hair was a tangled mass and her eyes were draped with dark rings. She covered her mouth to mask a yawn. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“No, I don’t mind at all.” Sydney lowered her tray.
“Thank you so much.” The woman turned toward the flight attendant and ordered water and tea before looking at Sydney again. “I haven’t had a thing to drink since I left Phoenix—my son keeps me so busy, sometimes I forget to take care of myself.”
Sydney glanced at the little boy. Long lashes curled around his bright eyes, which tracked every movement his mother made. He giggled when she tickled his tummy. “I can imagine. He looks like a bundle of energy. My parents live in Phoenix—in Tempe, not too far from the university.”
“We live in Mesa, but my husband always buys season tickets to the Arizona State football games, so I know Tempe well. I’m Tiffany by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Tiffany. I’m Sydney.”
Tiffany picked up the cup of water the flight attendant had brought her and downed it in a few swallows. “Have you been to Isla Colon or any of the other Boca del Toro islands before? I heard there’s nine of them.”
“No. To be honest, this trip was a sudden decision.” Sydney found the woman’s company comforting. The long silence during the long flight from LA to Panama City had been nearly intolerable. It gave her mind too much time to conjure up if only scenarios about her marriage.
“For me as well. This will be my first time out of the States. I thought—” Tiffany’s eyes welled up with tears, and she glanced away.
“What is it?” Sydney reached for the woman’s hand and gently squeezed it.
“That getting away would be the best thing for my boy.”
“Would you like to tell me what happened?”
Tiffany wiped away a tear. “My husband, Robert, lost his job when I was three months pregnant. Fortunately, I was able to pay our bills with my job as an insurance claims administrator. Instead of job hunting, Robert started drinking heavily. His moods became unpredictable and worsened after Kevin was born. I feel so alone all the time—caring for Kevin, working and trying to stay on top of the house and the bills. It feels like Robert has abandoned us.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Sydney. “I’m sure that’s overwhelming—carrying the entire burden of caring for and providing for your family.”
“It’s been awful. Every day I was scared to come home after work. I was afraid Robert might throw his plate at me if he didn’t like his dinner or slap me if I said something that offended him. Once Kevin was born, I took him to daycare every week. Even though it blew our budget, it was the only way. There was no way I would leave Kevin alone with Robert.” Tiffany paused, and her blond brows drew together. “I never imagined this would happen. I thought I knew my husband. He was the one I loved and could trust, I believed until I suddenly found myself standing hundreds of feet up in the air with no ground under my feet. I guess what I’m saying doesn’t make much sense.”
I thought I knew Craig, too. Sydney missed the close camaraderie she’d once had with her two closest friends in LA. Both of them were now young mothers with little time for socializing. The three of them had once enjoyed long lunches where they’d shared their most intimate feelings. Her friends had always been able to relate to what was going on inside her head, which somehow made what she was experiencing feel more acceptable, more universal. That’s how I feel talking to Tiffany. Maybe we can be friends. “Tiffany, I understand how you’re feeling. I feel like my life’s been pulled out from under my feet, too. My husband left me and I never even saw it coming. I was so devastated I booked the first available flight and now here I am. But it sounds like your husband has been difficult for a while now. What finally made you decide to leave?”
“He threatened to kill Kevin last night when he wouldn’t stop crying. I realized at that moment, I had to let go of my false hopes of him ever sobering up and going back to being the man I’d fallen in love with. So I told him I would drive Kevin around in the car until he fell asleep. Instead, I fled for the airport with only a diaper bag and my purse.”
Sydney knew she’d do the same thing if her own son were endangered. He would be her number one priority from the minute he was born until the second she drew her last breath. “Oh, Tiffany, I’m sorry. That must have been so frightening for you. Maybe once we land, we can stick together and give each other some support. I know I could use a friend right now.”
“I would love to be your friend,” said Tiffany. “You’re so understanding and you really listen. But you look so sad. You must have loved your husband very much.”
Sydney sighed. “Yes, I really thought I did. We met in college, and he rescued me from the slew of bad boys I’d been dating.”
Tiffany laughed. “Oh, yes, them.”
Sydney smiled, appreciating Tiffany’s subtle attempt to lift the somber mood. “I’ll tell you all about them one of these days.” She paused. “Craig was practical—a man with a future. We both enjoyed hiking, Greek and Italian food and action and adventure movies—we seemed compatible enough. I didn’t realize when we were dating, he was so high maintenance, but I made a commitment the day I married him, so I was willing to deal with it.” She told her new friend how she’d fixed his meals, kept the house spotless, picked up his discarded clothing, washed and ironed his clothes, entertained his friends, and tried every method in the book to get pregnant. “I just never imagined this marriage I’d thought was permanent would end in an instant. I still can’t quite believe it.” There was a tremor in Sydney’s voice.
Compassion radiated from Tiffany’s dark eyes. “Honey, I can’t believe that man left you when you were so devoted to him. He must have some screws loose in his brain. You deserve much better. Maybe the right man is still out there waiting.”
“I don’t think I could ever have a relationship after this. Not when what I thought was real and permanent turned out to mean nothing. How will I ever be able to trust someone again?”
“So you never had any doubts about him?”
“Once in a while I did. There wasn’t much passion or handholding in our relationship. He always said couples that hung all over each other were insecure. I always thought that meant they were really comfortable with each other.”
Tiffany nodded. “That’s what the side of me that still believes in love thinks, too.”
”Craig started coming home late from work more and more often. Sometimes I’d sit at the table eating my dinner alone and wonder what it would be like to have a husband who couldn’t wait to get home at night to kiss me and occasionally went to work late because we’d had sex in the shower.”
Tiffany laughed. “I’ve thought about that, too. Even though I’m not sure I can ever start over, it’s hard to let go of that dream.”
“Hmm.” Sydney recalled two of the hottest bad boys she’d slept with in college and tried to imagine their personalities mellowed enough that they could settle down. She couldn’t imagine Jake or Nathan ever getting married.
“Since you don’t have children, at least you won’t have a messy divorce. You can focus on finding the right man; one who will give something back to you.”
What Sydney wanted to focus on was avoiding men like the plague so she wouldn’t ever have to feel this knife-in-the-back feeling again. “Right now, I think I’d rather just enjoy a man-free existence.”
“I understand what you mean.” Tiffany patted Kevin’s bottom and frowned. “Uh, oh. I need to take Kevin to the lavatory for a diaper change.”
While the two were gone, Sydney gazed out the window, mesmerized by the blue water below them.
On Isla Colon, I’ll do whatever I want. I’ll finally have peace and quiet. Craig found living in Los Angeles city exciting. Sydney had found it stifling—the traffic, the noise, the smog. She wanted to gaze out over the horizon of ocean, see tree-covered hills without buildings or roads marring her view, and to hear only waves crashing on the sand instead of the whine of semis on nearby freeways. She’d never told Craig how she felt—marriage was all about tolerance, she’d told herself. And being told you’re as loved and needed as yesterday’s garbage.
His career as a software salesman would continue to grow with a younger, more fertile woman at his side. I’m going where I can breathe the outdoors, not only through my nose and mouth but also through the pores of my skin. Watching the sapphire water passing by made her imagine the sound of the lapping waves, the squeeze of sand between her toes, and the sensual embrace of warm seawater around her body. Craig will be shocked I left town. She laughed. Her ticket was one-way. Maybe I’ll go back to LA next week or next month. Or never.
“I’ve only got one diaper left—it’s a good thing we’re almost there.” Tiffany sat back down, tucked her diaper bag under the seat and positioned Kevin in her lap. “I wish I had a list of hotels or a travel book.”
“I speak passable Spanish. I can ask about good hotels once we land.”
The pilot’s announcement to prepare for landing broke into their conversation. Sydney righted her seat and watched, as the chain of lush green islands grew larger in her field of view. Acres and acres of palm trees and other rainforest flora were fringed by white stretches of beach and turquoise and cerulean sea. In addition to the larger islands, hundreds of other islets dotted the brilliant blue waters. The plane’s shadow drifted across the water. We’re almost there.
A loud crash made the floor under her feet rumble and the aircraft lurched to one side and shuddered. Just a little turbulence, she thought before the shaking turned violent, and a muffled voice over the speakers urged people to brace themselves. Chaos erupted on the small aircraft. Screams and sobs pierced the air.
“What’s happening?” Tiffany screamed over the din.
“I don’t know. It’ll be okay.” Sydney leaned in toward Tiffany as her muscles jerked into spasm. Sydney’s stomach felt as if it had been left behind hundreds of feet higher up in the air. She gagged on vomit that burped up into her throat. The plane’s structure cracked and groaned as the plane plunged downward. She and Tiffany huddled with lowered heads, sheltering Kevin. Sydney’s head swam, and fear constricted her throat. She gasped for breath. This is it. We’re all going to die. People sobbed and cried out the names of their loved ones. Oh, no.
Sydney clamped her eyes shut and braced for the sudden end to the consciousness she’d known as life. Oh, please, God, don’t let it all end like this. We just need one more chance. The roar of metal striking the wall of water drowned out the shrieks of terror. Why can’t I scream was the last coherent thought as her head bounced against the seat in front of her.