Someone was breathing on Yeager Gates's right arm.The
exhalations, cherry-lollipop-sweet, fanned against him in
time with the surges of the ferryboat that chugged through
the Pacific Ocean toward Abrigo Island. Seated on the
aisle, but trapped between his buddy Deke Nielsen and the
Breather, Yeager tamped down his irritation, squeezed his
eyes shut behind his dark glasses, and pretended to be
With each choppy bounce of the boat along the waves, cool
wind puffed through an open window against his cheek. He
could hear the buzz of conversation from the few other
passengers, feel the thrum of the ferry's engines against
the soles of his running shoes, and smell the sharp tang
of saltwater-as well as the sticky aroma of each gust of
the Breather's breath.
One row of seats behind him, a woman started speaking
excitedly. "There it is! I think I see the island!"
The breathing stopped as small footsteps scurried away,
and the sense of being scrutinized disappeared too.
Relieved, Yeager tugged his cap down farther on his head
and slumped deeper against the cushioned seat, stretching
out his stiff leg before him.
He released a slow sigh. The whole point of this escape
from Houston's space community was to avoid prying eyes,
even those so obviously child-sized. Screw the hospital's
pen-clickers, who claimed withdrawal and avoidance were
classic signs of the first stages of grief. He'd be damned
if he'd cry about anything. He just plain needed to get
away, so he could focus on the healing that would get his
life back on track.
The woman behind him was speaking again. "The island's
right there. Rising out of the mist. See? Thegreen cliffs,
the sandy beach, palm trees." Her voice hushed. "It
looks ... enchanted,"
Other voices in the ferry's cabin rose in matching and
unignorable excitement, and uneasiness ran down Yeager's
spine. When Deke had offered to take him along on the
trip, he'd only said Abrigo was the southernmost of the
Channel Islands off California's coast. He'd said it was a
good place for a man to go underground. But he'd said
nothing to warrant the other passengers' eager
He'd said nothing about enchanted.
Yeager elbowed his friend. "You promised anonymous, Deke.
Enchanted doesn't sound like anonymous."
He felt the other man's shrug. "Relax. It's just an
illusion. Happens on foggy mornings.
The island suddenly pops up from the haze on the horizon."
The woman behind them was exclaiming again in wonder. "One
moment it was misty, and the next it just ... appeared."
A second voice joined in. "This is my third visit, and it
still amazes me. So lush and green against the deep blue
ocean. Two hours by ferry, and it's like arriving on
Deke's shoulder nudged Yeager. "See? Just what you wanted,
right? A break from reality.
A break from reality. He needed one for damn sure, he
thought, thumbing his dark glasses more firmly against his
face. A break to get his life together. A break to
understand why, though last year he'd hugged fifteen
stories of rocket fuel as it shot him into space, he
couldn't think past tomorrow without his hands shaking.
He sucked in a gulp of ocean air while deep, deep in his
belly a desperate but unnameable emotion rumbled. He
didn't want to believe his life would never be the same.
Could never be the same.
"You all right?" Deke asked.
"Why shouldn't I be?"
Deke's voice sounded doubtful. "Sure?"
It wasn't so hard to grin. "A-OK."
"Then let me tell you what's ahead. The ferry will take us
to the harbor directly adjacent to the village of Haven.
Houses, including the one where we'll stay, are mostly on
the hillsides surrounding the town."
Yeager's right leg cramped in tension. Village.
Houses. "That sounds like a lot of peohis birth
certificate, he'd been raised to flyThough he and his dad
formed more of a twoman air squadron than a family, the
nomadic life of an air force brat had suited him as much
as controlling a joystick had later satisfied his soul.
And the only real order of his father's he'd ever rebelled
against was when Yeager chose to become a navy jet jockey
instead of an air force one.
A jet jockey. That was who Yeager was. A man who needed
nothing more than a place to sleep and a training schedule
that included plenty of hours in the air. A flyer, an
All right, an astro-man. But Yeager shook his head.
Despite the fact that he'd been made, he didn't owe
anything to a cherry-breathing, privacy-busting little kid.
The boat bucked forward, and the Breather steadied himself
with a hand on Yeager's arm, then spoke again. "You sunged
that song. I liked it."
Yeager groaned, bitterness bubbling to the surface. What
he'd done for his country! Somehow those Sesame folks had
persuaded him to lend his lousy baritone to a duet with
that gawky yellow bird. The words hadn't left his brain
for weeks, something about every body and every bird
needing a place to nest.
"I hate that song," he muttered.
Yeager opened his mouth to repeat the statement. Louder
this time. But then he pictured the Breather standing
beside him. He remembered Big Bird's cocked and feathery
head. Elmo's bug eyes and rounded orange nose quivering
with interest. The passel of Sesame kids who'd looked up
at him with starsand moons-in their eyes.
With a resigned sigh, he flattened the paper against his
Beside him, Deke chuckled. "I've been hearing rumors since
the accident. Disappointed women claiming you've turned
from playboy to Boy Scout. Now I believe 'em."
Yeager ignored him, He particularly ignored the crack
about the disappointed women and turning Boy Scout. He'd
deal with that problem later. With reluctant fingers he
Only his first name. Even if the Breather showed it to
mommy and daddy, what would "Yeager" mean to them?
No reason to think they'd connect it to Yeager Gates. To
the Yeager Gates who had once explored the universe but
who now couldn't cross the street on his own...