The sun was setting by the time Brandon hauled himself out of bed for more than just a bathroom trip and a handful of almonds stolen from the bag on Alejandro’s dresser. He squinted at the empty room for a few moments before remembering that Alejandro and Ciaran had gone out to spend the day sailing, an activity that Brandon had gladly let them do together; just the sight of boats made him seasick and the best he could muster in water deeper than the bathtub was an awkward sort of dog paddle. Instead he planned to spend the night exactly as he’d spent the previous night: clubbing, drinking, and picking up anyone who seemed to want a good time.
He wiped a hand across his sticky mouth and went into the bathroom, turning the shower on as hot as he could stand. Stripping off the shorts he’d slept in, he got under the spray and just stood there for a couple of minutes, letting the water pound down on his skin and turn it bright red. His stomach growled, reminding him that a handful of stolen almonds weren’t nearly enough, especially before a night of boozing, and he grabbed the shampoo to wash his hair, humming to himself. With nobody around he felt safe enough to sing a few snatches of some popular song he’d heard on the radio, in between rinsing the lather from his short mohawk and scrubbing his face with soap.
When he was clean, he turned the shower off and got out of the tub, wrapping a towel around his waist and opening the door to let the steamy room air out. Through the massive floor-length window at the other end of the hotel room, he could see that the sun had sunk down to a fiery red ball at the edge of the horizon, edging the few clouds that had gathered in crimson light. The sight made him shiver a little and he wondered when Alejandro and Ciaran would be back; Alejandro had said they would be back before dark and after over ten years of friendship, Brandon knew that meant he would definitely be back long before the sun set. He was too neurotic to be late.
He went back into the bathroom once the steam had faded, studying himself in the mirror over the sink. His face looked the same as it always did—angular, high cheekbones, all his features except his green eyes obviously marking him as his father’s son—but the twin hickeys under his jaw and just above his collarbone were new. He touched them ruefully, remembering the girl who’d given them to him in the back seat of a taxi, her teeth sharp enough that he was a little surprised they were only bruises. She’d called him sweetheart like it actually meant something, but he’d rejected her offer to go back to his hotel room with him and gone back alone, to fall into bed and sleep the daylight hours away.
He shaved quickly and brushed his hair, working gel into it to make it stand up in short green spikes, then pulled on a pair of clean jeans and a tank top. Outside the sun had completely set and the stars had come out, their pale light competing with the bright neon of downtown. He went to the window and leaned against it to look out, trying to push down the uneasy feeling settling into his stomach. Alejandro was never late, even when he was caught up in spending time with Ciaran.
Shaking himself, Brandon grabbed his wallet and flipped quickly through it to make sure he still had some cash, then shoved it in his back pocket and left the room, trying to tell himself that being late once in ten years was not something to panic about. They’d never been to the Caribbean before either, and he’d seen first-hand how time could get away from people in the lazy, friendly atmosphere. The thought made him feel a little better, and he was smiling to himself as he got onto the elevator, his mind already turning towards the night ahead.
Someone called his name just as he was about to walk through the hotel’s front door and he turned to see a short woman wearing the hotel’s uniform jogging towards him. “Mr. Brandon Kim?” she asked, and he nodded, swallowing hard against the fear that surged back through him. “There’s been an accident, Mr. Kim. If you’ll come with me, we have a car waiting for you out back.”
“An accident?” He said the words through numb lips. “What kind of accident?”
“Please, Mr. Kim, come with me.” She took his arm and he let her, following her through the lobby to the back entrance, where a car sat with its lights on and its engine running, the door emblazoned with the hotel’s name and logo.
He got into the back of the car and clenched his hands in his lap, trying to keep his mind under control; scenarios flickered through his head, each one worse than the last, so that by the time the car pulled up in front of the hospital, he was nearly sick with terror. The driver opened the door for him, nodding respectfully, and by the time he got to the hospital’s front entrance he was running, his heart pounding painfully inside his chest.
He skidded around the corner so fast his sneakers slid on the tile floor and caught himself on the wall, his first shameful thought relief that it was Alejandro sitting alone on the hard plastic chair by the nurse’s desk, not Ciaran. Then he fully registered that Alejandro was alone, hunched in misery beneath a blanket someone had draped around his shoulders, and he hurried across the space between them, dropping into the chair beside Alejandro and pulling him in close. Alejandro pressed his face into Brandon’s shoulder and clung to him, breathing harsh and unsteady.
“You hurt?” He checked Alejandro over as best he could then, satisfied that he was physically unharmed except for a few bruises, he pulled the blanket back up over Alejandro’s shoulders and stroked his back. “What happened, Leandro? The lady at the hotel just said there was an accident.”
“There was a storm. Out on the water.” Alejandro’s voice was muffled in Brandon’s shirt and his fingers clenched painfully tight around Brandon’s waist. “It, uh, it sank the boat. And Ciaran... Ciaran disappeared.”
“Jesus.” Brandon tried to think of something else he could say, something to make it all better, and only came up blank. “Are they... They’re still looking, right?”
“Yeah.” Alejandro took a shuddery breath. “But nobody believes me when I say he vanished. There was this big flash of red light and then he was just gone.”
“Okay. As long as they’re still looking. Ciaran’s a strong swimmer and you must’ve made him wear a life jacket, right?” He forced a laugh. “I mean, you’ve always been all ‘safety first’.”
Alejandro shoved away from him so hard both their chairs nearly tipped over. Brandon planted his feet to keep from falling and opened his mouth to ask what the hell Alejandro was doing, until he saw the expression on Alejandro’s face, like he’d just been sucker-punched. Alejandro blinked, reaching up absently to wipe away the tears that had spilled down his cheeks, and gave Brandon the ghastliest smile he’d ever seen.
“I should’ve given him his first,” he said, unable to keep the smile up with his bottom lip trembling. “Or made him wear it as soon as we got back on the boat. I didn’t. And I put mine on first. So it’s my fault.”
“It’s not your fault. Jesus, Leandro. They said nothing about any storm on the weather forecast, so how could you even expect there might be trouble? You didn’t do anything wrong. And they’ll find him, you’ll see.”
Alejandro’s expression didn’t get any less bleak, but he let Brandon pull him in again, resting his head on Brandon’s shoulder. After a while he slept, his tense muscles releasing and his face smoothing out, though he still looked pale and exhausted. Brandon let him sleep, watching nurses, doctors, and patients hurry back and forth on their own business, waiting while the hours ticked by. He was on the verge of dozing off himself, despite how numb his arm was from Alejandro’s weight, when a tall man in a doctor’s white coat approached them, glancing up from his clipboard.
“Brandon. Brandon Kim, I’m his,” he nodded to Alejandro, “friend. Have they found Ciaran?”
“I’m afraid not. The alert has been put out, but there isn’t much anyone can do in the dark. If you’ll take my advice, Mr. Kim, you’ll take Mr. Quezada back to the hotel and contact family members. I would also get in contact with the Canadian embassy.”
Brandon studied the doctor’s dark, impassive face. “You think he’s dead.”
“I never make assumptions, Mr. Kim, I only recommend based on what I know.”
“Leandro said he saw a red light before Ciaran disappeared,” Brandon said, while inside he rolled his eyes and resisted the urge to ask if the good doctor had always been such a pompous ass. “And he definitely said disappeared, not drowned or was carried away by the current.”
“Mr. Quezada is under a lot of stress, understandably. It was stormy; he likely only saw lightning.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
Brandon grinned, though there was a nasty edge to it. “You mean like people vanishing in flashes of red light?”
“Go back to your hotel,” the doctor said stiffly. “The police or the Coast Guard will contact you if they find anything.”
Brandon watched him walk away and curled his upper lip slightly, then gently shook Alejandro awake. “Come on, Leandro. Let’s at least go sleep in a bed for a bit.” He expected an argument, but Alejandro only nodded and followed him docilely up to the nurse’s desk, where Brandon asked the nurse on duty to call them a cab.
It was past 2 am when they got back to their room at the hotel but Brandon sent Alejandro to have a hot shower and called room service to bring up sandwiches for something to eat. He had the food all arranged out on top of one of the beds when Alejandro came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and with a bit more colour in his cheeks, even if bleakness still shadowed his eyes. He ate without obvious enjoyment and Brandon didn’t try to make him talk, glad that at least he was eating. When they were finished he called room service back up to take away the plates while Alejandro changed into pyjama pants and crawled into bed.
Brandon glanced over as he shut the door and locked it. “Yeah, man?”
Alejandro held the sheets up in silent invitation, and after a slight hesitation Brandon stripped down to his boxers and crawled in beside him. He hadn’t shared a bed with Alejandro in years—since Ciaran had come onto the scene, his mind helpfully reminded him—but it didn’t take long to settle into their usual position, him on his back and Alejandro curled up against his side. He was a little surprised to find he’d missed it, though other than some fooling around between 15 and 16, neither of them had been interested in each other beyond friendship. Shifting to get more comfortable, he ran his fingers through Alejandro’s still-damp hair, hoping they would wake up in the morning to find it had all been a bad dream.
“I didn’t imagine it,” Alejandro said quietly in the darkness, bringing Brandon out of the half-doze he’d slipped into. “It wasn’t lightning, I wasn’t seeing things, and I’m not crazy. One second he was there, the next he was gone.”
“I believe you,” Brandon said, surprising even himself a little; but when he actually thought about it, he realized there was no doubt inside him. Alejandro might be neurotic, anxious, and so socially awkward Brandon was still mildly surprised that he’d ever managed to get a boyfriend, let alone stay with the same one for four years, but he wasn’t a liar and he wasn’t crazy. “If you said you saw this red light and Ciaran disappeared, then okay, I’m with you all the way. But where did he go, Leandro? How do people just disappear like that?”
“I don’t know. I’ll find out though.” Alejandro shifted, the arm he had draped across Brandon’s stomach tightening. “I’ll find Ciaran and I’ll bring him back.”