not to keep
SUMMARY: “It was a deserted island, Mother. We were there for three years. It’s not a terribly exciting story.” Or, what happens to those left behind.
Almost three years to the day, Sabrina Carlisle gets a phone call in the middle of the morning.
The voice isn’t familiar, but it’s official sounding. His name is Tom Donovan, he says with a New York accent, and he works for Oceanic Airlines, and several years ago, Mrs. Carlisle, one Boone Carlisle and a Shannon Rutherford – who has you listed as next-of-kin, ma’am, which is why we’re calling – boarded Flight 815 from Sydney to Los Angeles, correct?
Yes, she tells him. She’s trying to sound disaffected, but it’s not working. No one’s ever called from the airline before. Reporters, yes, but not airline officials.
Calm down, she tells herself. They’re calling about bodies. You know that. If you let yourself get your hopes up--
Well, ma’am, Tom tells her, I have some good news for you, then.
Sabrina doesn’t hear the rest. She’s too busy crying.
Sabrina’s always had money, even when she was still Sabrina Montgomery from San Diego. But when she was 22, she ran into Richard Carlisle at a friend’s dinner party, and that was that. They were married inside of a year, and Boone was born two years to the day from their wedding anniversary, after thirty-seven hours of labor and a C-section.
She and Richard divorced when Boone was seven. It was amicable enough, all things considered; neither side wanted money from the other – one of the benefits of marrying someone as wealthy as you are – and they split the property down the middle. They’re still friends. She went to his last wedding, the fourth.
They had joint custody, though Boone spent nine-tenths of his time with her. He never seemed all that torn up about his father leaving; she got the feeling, a couple of times, that he’d been waiting for Richard to leave from the time he was born, and it just took Richard a little longer to catch on.
The details are fuzzy, mostly because Oceanic doesn’t want any getting out; they’re already paranoid about lawsuits. And that’s smart, because after Sabrina gets done with them--
And then she hears someone yell “Mother!” at the same time someone else yells “Sabrina?”, and she turns around.
And there they are, the same as she’s pictured them every day for the last three years. They’re a little more tan than she’s imagined, and their hair is longer, but they’re real and they’re *alive*.
Just this once, Sabrina lets herself run.
They can’t leave yet; not even Sabrina Carlisle throwing what would on another person be called a tantrum is enough to get them released from custody. “They just want to know what happened,” Shannon says irritably, checking her nails. Sabrina’s still not sure how she’s kept a manicure while trapped on a deserted island, but if anyone could, it’d be Shannon. “Please. Like we haven’t told them, like, five thousand times already.”
”Don’t antagonize them,” Boone says wearily, and for a minute it’s as if no time at all has passed. “I don’t really want to be here any longer than I have to be, Shan. Some of us have lives to get back to.”
”I’m pretty sure the company didn’t fall over dead because you weren’t there,” Shannon shoots back, and mutters something under her breath. It sounds vaguely Middle Eastern.
Sabrina doesn’t understand a word of it, but it sounds rude. She’s expecting Boone to yell something back at her, even if he doesn’t understand it, but instead he starts snickering. He says something back at her in the same language, still laughing a little, and then Shannon’s giggling too.
Sabrina watches her son and her stepdaughter laughing like they’ve never had any problems getting along, like they haven’t been in hell for the last three years, and wonders who came back from Australia, because it couldn’t be the people she knew.
She met Edward Rutherford when Boone was eight. Edward’s daughter Shannon was a pretty little blonde girl, the spitting image of her mother. “Lisa died when Shan was three,” Edward told her. “She doesn’t remember her mother that well.”
(”I remember her,” Shannon will tell her one night at dinner, one of the infrequent times all four of them are gathered together without a dinner party or a social event being involved. “*You’re* the one who forgot her for the first dark-haired piece of social-climbing ass to come along.” Edward will be properly horrified, and agree that spending next semester at a Swiss boarding school will do the girl a world of good. Boone will not say a single word.)
It wasn’t quite a whirlwind courtship – a year is not a whirlwind *anything* - but everyone still seemed surprised when Edward proposed at Christmas. Sabrina said yes because she loved him, not because she loved his money, despite what everyone said to the contrary.
They were married for almost ten years when Edward started getting the pains in his head.
They’re not allowed out of custody yet, but Sabrina visits every day. She has Annette hold all her calls and postpones meetings, cancels appointments. It’s not like she can’t reschedule, or that she’s hard up for work.
Shannon is almost exactly the same girl she was the last time Sabrina saw her: superior, easily amused and just as easily bored, vain. But not *entirely*, because one time Sabrina shows up before she’s supposed to and sees Shannon sitting with a plain-looking red-haired girl, doing small braids in her hair and laughing. She can’t make out what they’re saying, but the girl is giggling and so is Shannon, and Sabrina can’t remember the last time she saw Shannon giggle. Or laugh. Or speak civilly to her, actually.
But since she’s been back, she’s been nothing but nice to Sabrina, as if the last twelve or thirteen years had never happened. She almost slipped and called her “Mom” the other day, but caught herself just in time.
Something happened out there, and Sabrina has no idea what.
Edward died in his sleep on a Monday. He did not, as his friends whisper, walk in on Sabrina and the pool boy, and he was not poisoned. He’d been complaining about headaches for the last six or seven months, but he hadn’t been to see a doctor, and Sabrina had been too busy with book deals and her marketing people to make sure he saw one.
Even now, almost eight years later, Sabrina misses him so much she still sometimes wakes up crying in the middle of the night. Her driver’s license still says “Sabrina Carlisle-Rutherford”, because she’d taken his last name and she’d meant it. If she ever marries again – small chance; she likes the company but has neither time nor inclination to deal with the paperwork and official nightmares that go with such things – her name will be Sabrina Carlise-Rutherford-Lastnamehere, because she’s not about to let Edward’s name slip away as silently as he did.
Shannon blamed her for her father’s death. Sabrina didn’t rush to correct her. The girl needed a villain; she found herself one. It’s no worse than Wall Street’s called her on occasion.
Sometimes Sabrina catches sight of the rest of the people who were on the island with her children.
Not often; they have families of their own visiting, and it’s almost as if Oceanic doesn’t *want* the survivors gathering together, like they’re trying to meet and get their stories straight. She still catches glimpses of them sometimes, though.
There’s a girl a year or two younger than Shannon, pretty and blonde and toting a toddler around; she’s usually with a young man about Boone’s age, who looks vaguely familiar. A tall, dark-haired woman looks up suspiciously whenever she sees someone walk in, but her face always clears and she smiles when she sees Sabrina isn’t an airline official or a police officer. One time, she played an extremely good game of backgammon with a small boy before his father came up and hurried him away, seeming embarrassed. The boy just acted nonplussed and waved at Sabrina, who waved back.
A few times, it’s just been Boone to see her. Shannon’s busy with other things, he’ll tell her, and it’s – it’s almost *awkward*, though that can’t be true. The two of them have never had an awkward day together in their lives. Perhaps they’ve been coolly polite to one another more than most mothers and sons, but that’s not the same thing.
“Tell me you didn’t put Mason in charge while I was gone,” he says the first time they’re alone, and it’s almost a relief. Business is fine. They can talk business.
No, she says, not Mason; the man’s a competent enough worker, but an idiot when it comes to actual decision-making. She had Roger Williamette in charge for the first six months, Annie Whitmore for the last two-and-a-half-years. Boone’s eye starts twitching on Roger’s name but smoothes out on Annie’s.
They mostly talk business, or personal things that Boone’s missed. He doesn’t want to talk about what happened on the island. Neither does Shannon, actually. She’s asked, more than once, and the first few times they muttered something about Oceanic not wanting to talk to people before they “got the details ironed out”, whatever that meant. Now the people from Oceanic are starting to relax and say things in *her* hearing, even, and Boone and Shannon are still totally close-mouthed.
”It was a deserted island, Mother,” Boone finally says, sounding irritated and more than a little exhausted. He looks pale under his rapidly fading tan, and she doesn’t think he’s sleeping that well, but he’s here. She can forgive a lot of things to have her son back with her. “Forty-seven survivors out of a plane of a hundred and thirty-something people. We were there for three years. It’s not a terribly exciting story.”
Sabrina lets it drop. She has time to ask, after all. She has all the time in the world.
Shannon and Boone never got along, not even the three or four months out of the year they were together. Shannon resented Sabrina for splitting her father’s attention, and Boone for being Sabrina’s son; Boone just gritted his teeth and tried to act like it wasn’t the most ridiculous thing in the world suddenly having a sister four years younger than he was. Neither of them appreciated Sabrina and Edward’s attempts to force them to do things as a family, and after a while Sabrina stopped trying.
It was easier when Boone went to college, and easier still when Shannon went a few years later. There was the awkward period when Shannon announced she was dropping out six credits short of her junior year to marry someone named Darwin, and they couldn’t stop her and they didn’t understand, he *loved* her – but really, what would Shannon have done with a history degree? She wasn’t cut out to be a teacher, and Sabrina couldn’t see her working at a university or doing research.
No, all things considered, this was for the best. Who knew? It might even work out.
Boone drops the bomb on her the next time she sees him.
”I don’t think I’ll be coming back to work right away,” he tells her – no greeting, no hello to soften the blow. “At least six months, probably a year. Or more.”
”Or—Boone, that’s ridiculous,” Sabrina says, straightening her skirt. “You’ve been gone three years already; you want to have *another* to catch up on?”
”You haven’t gone bankrupt while I was gone,” he says dryly. “You haven’t been to prison. You don’t even look that upset.”
”Don’t you *dare*,” she snaps, and it’s all she can do not to slap him. He’s not too old for *that*, not yet. Not ever. “I – you were gone for *three years*, Boone. They sent out boats, planes – I called Frank Nimitz at the SEALs to see if they could do something! No sign of you. It was as if you just…disappeared off the face of the earth.” She glances up, trying to read Boone’s expression, but he’s just staring at her.
“So of course I went on. It’s the same thing I did after your father left, and after Edward died. It’s-“
It’s the only way I could get through the last three years without crying every day, she thinks, but does not say.
”-it’s what I do,” she finishes, and takes a deep breath. She wants to cry, wants to burst out weeping, but she doesn’t. Sabrina Carlisle does not cry, especially not in front of her son. “And anyway, what are you going to do with this mystery year? I’d think you’d have had enough traveling for a couple of lifetimes.”
“I don’t know,” Boone says, and she knows, she *knows* he’s lying. He has no talent for it; that, she knows, he inherited from his father. “But the thought of going back to an office and staying in one for the rest of my life – I can’t do it, Sabrina. I can’t. I’m sorry if this leaves you in the lurch—“
”—but things are different now.” Boone pushes his bangs off his forehead – he’s been back almost three weeks, why the hell hasn’t he had a haircut yet? – and his sleeve falls back enough to see a thick, slightly twisted white line spiraling up the length of his arm.
A scar. Her son hadn’t left with any scars that she knew of, and certainly none on his arms. What the hell had happened out there?
”I’m sorry,” Boone says again, and she can see it in his face: there’ll be no more discussion of this.
For the first time in a very long time, Sabrina is speechless.
The marriage failed, of course. Darwin turned out to be addicted to gambling and more than a little physically abusive, and the first person Shannon called was – surprise, surprise – Boone. He just rolled his eyes and muttered about how *some* people could never take care of their own problems, but he packed a suitcase and went to London to get her.
He came back two weeks later, nursing cold airport coffee with no Shannon in tow. “She’s in Paris,” he said when Sabrina asked. “Playing au pair. I give it a year.”
But then, that was Shannon. Anytime she needed rescuing – from her marriage, from Mexico on her seventeenth birthday, from the young man she said was stalking her in junior high – it was Boone she went to, not her father or Sabrina. One of the few perks of having an older brother, Sabrina supposed, “real” or otherwise.
Shannon left Paris after little over a year and traveled around – back to London (but not Darwin, thank God), Dublin, Toronto, Los Angeles. She spent the better part of a month here in New York, of all places, dragging around those appalling Hilton sisters and some of their friends and hangers-on.
The girl was a gypsy. Sabrina was just glad *she* wasn’t the one Shannon called every time something went wrong.
There was never a question about whether or not Boone would follow Sabrina into business after he finished with college. He has her head for business, and his father’s skills with people, so she ignored the shocked look from the board and installed him as president of one of her smaller subsidiary companies. Something low-key and already fairly profitable, hard to mess up.
She was pleasantly surprised when profits were up a hundred percent by the second quarter, but she made sure not to let it show. Sabrina the mother can be proud until her head bursts, but Sabrina the businesswoman is only mildly impressed.
So she was more than a little surprised when Boone came into her office one day and announced he was going after Shannon.
”She’s in Australia,” he said, taking the seat across from her. Sitting without being invited first was a small liberty, so she allowed it. “Shacked up with some guy named Bryan.”
”I thought she was still in Puerto Rico,” Sabrina said, not looking up from her monitor.
”Mmn, no. Six months now.” Boone looked irritated, the way he always did when he talked about Shannon, and more than a little tired; Sabrina the mother and Sabrina the businesswoman both agreed on that one. He rubbed one eyebrow and picked at a spot on his jacket.
”Let me guess,” she said. “She’s asked you to come rescue her, because God forbid Shannon extricate herself from anything, ever.”
”It’s not that bad,” Boone said, sitting up a little straighter. “She’s – there was yelling, when she called. She sounded scared. It might be another Darwin situation.”
Oh, hell. Sabrina let out a long breath through her nose. “You’re taking the checkbook?”
Boone shot her a look. “When don’t I?”
”Fair enough.” Sabrina smiled, then let it fall away. “When you get back, you might want to think about taking a couple of weeks for yourself. Get some color. Go out of town, see some friends. You could use a vacation.”
They were the last words she said to her son until the morning at the airport, three years later.
“You’re being an idiot, you know,” Shannon snaps, loud enough to be heard halfway down the hall, and Sabrina stops to listen. God forbid anyone see Sabrina Carlisle eavesdropping in a hallway, but if her children are going to have a screaming fight in the hotel, that’s not actually eavesdropping, is it? No. It’s being a concerned parent.
“We just got *back* from being trapped on a deserted island for three *years*, and you’re leaving *again*?”
”Yes,” Boone says, and he’s got the same tone in his voice talking to Shannon that he did with Sabrina, so at least he’s not just reacting to *her*. “Shannon—“
”Don’t,” the girl snaps, and – Lord, did she just stomp her feet? “You don’t get to talk to me like that anymore, Boone.” Something changes in Shannon’s voice. “Or don’t you remember—“
”*Shannon*.” And there’s that other tone again, the one that doesn’t allow for any discussion.
There’s half a minute of total silence. Sabrina can hear something that’s probably at least one of them moving around; Boone, most likely. Packing. Not that he has a lot to pack, but—
And that’s when it hits her: he’s really going through with this. He just got back, she just got him back again, and he’s leaving again. Shannon’s one thing, she loves the girl but she’s Edward’s daughter, and this is her *son*, and maybe she’s never been particularly maternal, but she’s regretting that now. Someone particularly maternal would be able to keep this from happening.
Sabrina takes a deep breath and starts counting back from a hundred. She will not cry, she will *not* cry, she will--
”Shannon,” someone says, sounding almost hesitant, and that chases the tears back a little. It’s a man who’s talking, but it’s not Boone. This man sounds older, for a start, and his voice is a little lower. “It’s not your decision to make.”
”And you’re *okay* with this?” Shannon says, all shrill terror. “You’re okay with my stupid brother going on – what, *walkabout*? Going around the world like some kind of goddamn shaman, like Locke—“
Sabrina doesn’t know who that is, but the door suddenly bangs open and Boone stalks past her like she’s not even there, straight for the stairs. Not even the elevators; the *stairs*.
”What in God’s name—“ Sabrina starts, coming around the corner, pretending she hadn’t just heard half the fight, but Shannon’s sitting on the bed crying, her face in her hands. She has just enough time to look around and see a tall man – very tall, Edward-tall – in a white button-up shirt and black pants brush past her, saying “excuse me, ma’am” almost absently on his way out the door.
”He’s going,” Shannon says, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Her very expensive sleeve. She didn’t things like that before she got back. “He’s leaving tomorrow, Sabrina. And God help me, I think I want to go with him.”
Sabrina doesn’t know what to say to that, so she doesn’t say anything at all.
The phone rang at two in the morning, startling her out of a sound sleep. Sabrina didn’t pick up; that was why God made answering machines.
She heard the message the next morning, checking her voicemail and drinking her third cup of coffee.
”Mrs. Carlisle, this is David Horowitz with Oceanic Airlines. It’s – it’s important you call me back as soon as you get this message.” He’d rattled off a string of numbers.
Sabrina finished her coffee and dialed from the landline, half-listening. She had no idea why the man hadn’t gotten hold of her assistant Karen, but there’s got to be a good reason.
”Mrs. Carlisle,” David Horowitz said hesitantly, and it was the way that he pronounced her name that would echo in her head forever. Mrs. Carlisle, pronounced like Oh, this isn’t going to be good. “Your son and your – stepdaughter were on Flight 815 leaving yesterday from Sydney, Australia, correct?”
”Yes,” Sabrina said. “Has there–“ She cleared her throat. “Is there a problem, Mr. Horowitz?”
Sabrina half-turns at the sound of her name. It’s the tall man from the hotel room yesterday, she realizes. “Yes, Mr.-“
”Jack,” the man says, offering her his hand. She takes it with a polite smile. He has a very nice grip, she notices, and the smile becomes a little less polite and a little more real. “Jack Shepard. I’m – I’m sorry, we haven’t actually met yet. I was on the island with your son and daughter.”
”Stepdaughter,” Sabrina says automatically.
”Right, sorry.” Jack looks faintly embarrassed at that. He’s in his thirties, 35 at the latest. “Are you here to see Boone off?”
”Something like that,” she says, letting his hand drop. The plan is to beg and plead with him not to go, threaten if necessary. She still has trust funds in reserve, and she’s not afraid to use them.
”If I could offer a suggestion?” Jack asks, and Sabrina tilts her head to show she’s listening. “Let him go.”
She hadn’t been expecting *that*. ”Excuse me?”
”I don’t – I can’t speak as to who Boone was before the crash, what kind of man he was,” Jack says. “But I think it’s safe to say that he’s not the same person he was the day he boarded that plane. I’m not saying he’s never coming back to work—“
”And I appreciate that,” Sabrina says, hearing her voice get cooler with every word.
”—but if he needs a little time to figure some things out, I would think you’d allow him that time. As a mother, I mean.”
Sabrina takes a deep breath, lets it out through her nose. “May I ask what you do for a living, Mr. Shepard?”
”Dr. Shepard, actually,” he says, not bothered at all but the way she sounds now. “I’m a cardiologist.”
“Yes, well, I run a *business*, Doctor,” she says. “People are depending on me, and by proxy, my son. If things were different, maybe him haring off and going on another adventure wouldn’t be so bad, but—“
”This wasn’t an adventure, Mrs. Carlisle,” Jack says. He sounds a little incredulous. “This was a *plane crash*. We were stranded for three years. And frankly, ma’am, I’m a little surprised you’re not more sensitive about his mental state.”
“Oh, *God*,” Boone groans from behind the both of them. They turn and look at him. Jack looks almost guilty; it’s perilously close to how Sabrina feels. She wonders if it shows on her face. “Please don’t tell me we’re going to have a screaming fight in public, Mother. This isn’t even a funereal.”
”Boone,” she says stiffly. Well, *that* was uncalled for. As if Sabrina had been the one to start that, not Shannon. “You’re still going through with this?”
”Which you knew, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” Boone casts a baleful eye at Jack. Sabrina has never been upset about her son not having a rebellious teenager phase, but she is now. At least he could have had it out of his system already. “Let me guess. You’re here to talk me out of it, too?”
”Nah,” Jack says, and hands over a book. Philosophy, Sabrina thinks, though she’s not familiar with the name on the spine. Her minor in college was art history. “I brought you something to read on the plane. You know, in case you get bored.”
Boone’s trying very hard not to smile. “What, no Watership Down?”
”Ohhh, no,” Jack says, grinning. Oh, wonderful, a private joke. Sabrina hates those. “The last time you brought that book on a plane, it ended badly. I figured I’d try skipping fate this time.”
”I’ve heard worse ideas,” Boone says.
There’s a very long silence. Sabrina gets the feeling he’d rather she wasn’t there, but if he thinks she’s going to leave he can forget it.
”You’re going to call?” Jack asks. He hasn’t let go of the book yet, Sabrina notices. If he stretches out his fingers a little more, he and Boone will be touching.
”No.” He reaches out and laces his fingers with Jack, thumb under the book to hold it in place. Jack brushes his thumb against the small white knot on the back of Boone’s knuckles. “No phone calls. Not even a *postcard*.”
Jack dips his voice low. “I’m going to worry.”
”That’s the idea,” Boone says, but his eyes are dark. “You could come, you know.”
”Not now,” Jack says, shaking his head. But Sabrina can see in his eyes that he wants to. More importantly, he’s *going* to, as soon as he can manage. It won’t be as long as he thinks, either.
Oh, yes. Something happened out there.
Then Jack lets go of Boone’s hand – making sure he has the book – and takes a step back. Boone stuffs the book in his back pocket and looks at her for a long moment. Sabrina doesn’t say anything, just looks back at him.
”Fuck it,” Boone mutters suddenly, and hugs her.
He’s leaving. Her son is leaving, and she just got him back.
”Don’t go,” she whispers, and hugs him back.
“I have to,” he whispers back, kissing her forehead. “There’s – there’s things I have to do, Mother. But I’ll be back. You’ll barely notice I’m gone.” He pulls back and smiles at her. Not for the first time, it reminds him of his father.
”I love you,” Sabrina says quietly. It’s the first time she’s said it out loud to anyone in – God, *years*. The words feel rusty on her tongue. But Boone just smiles and says them back to her, and doesn’t let her go until the boarding call starts.
Maybe, she thinks, watching him join the boarding line, duffel bag slung over one arm, wearing a sport coat that doesn’t look familiar and a pair of sunglasses, this is all a dream. She’s still in New York, and Tom Donovan from Oceanic never called. Her children are still missing. *Everyone’s* children are still missing, and this is all some wonderful, horrible dream—
Jack reaches out a hand and brushes it against hers, as if letting her know it’s there. After a little while, Sabrina takes it.