Taking a deep breath, she reached out and touched his arm. There was no response. Biting her lips, she wrestled with the idea of turning back to seek help. But the limp, helpless form stirred something in her. She plucked up her courage and, with some effort, heaved the body over.The seemingly lifeless man groaned.
Startled, she jerked back her arm.
"Are you all right, sir?" she said, scanning the man for injuries.
The face was a ghastly, chalk-white pallor with greenish undertones, except where streaks of black seaweed stuck like an odd-shaped tattoo on one cheek. Blue lips, with a red clot coloring one corner, ringed his mouth which made raspy sounds as though it was difficult to breathe. A large bruise marred his forehead, a fresh flow of blood threatening to burst through the thin skin. A mass of bruises, all purplish-blue and circled with shades of crimson, covered his shoulder and ribcage. She flinched at the sight of the open wound on his chest. Rimmed with sand and small pieces of seaweed, some of which had entered the fleshy part, the injury looked serious.
"Sir, can you hear me? Don't be afraid. I am going to call for help. Just hang on!" Viki said, quelling the tremor in her voice. The man stirred and muttered something unintelligible.
"l will come back fast, I promise!" she said, more brave than she felt.
She dashed across the beach with fists clenched, stretching her legs to the limit, her heart hammering in time to her strides. Spying three fishermen crouched near the cluster of fishing boats, talking, she ran up to them, panting out her story. The men recognized her as a fellow fisherman's daughter. Wasting no time, they sprang to their feet after deciphering her breathless story and galvanized into action. As they reached the injured man, Viki called out again.
The man stirred. His eyes cracked open and he tried to speak, but nothing came out. As the fishermen lifted him, the injured man cried out in a hoarse voice, stiffening with a jerk. Then, his body sagged, and he passed out.
Richard Su sat very still, allowing the full weight of the news to sink in. Authorities had finally located the speedboat Eric set off in. It had smashed into a cliff near Krabi. No bodies were found in the wreck and in the surrounding waters. Locals who witnessed the accident said the boat was spinning out of control when it crashed. No one was at the helm.
'Eric's a strong swimmer. He'll make it to shore before the storm hit,' he told himself, clutching at the brittle straws of hope. His son was probably hunkered down somewhere, waiting to be rescued. It was a matter of time before the coastguard or the Navy finds him. To speed things up, Richard even engaged his own search parties.
That was three days ago, three long, agonizing days following the call he received while still in the States. Dark thoughts, pushed away with a fierce determination, now crept back to haunt him. He could not bear to lose his son, not after what he had gone through when his wife died. Even though it was ten years ago, the pain still cut like a knife.
Guilt pasted the incriminating scorecard in front of his eyes. Eric's convocation, his singing debut, the subsequent sellout concerts, the Golden Horse award ceremony, holiday plans; the list went on and on, entries made in his calendars for which he had never made an appearance because of more pressing business.
Regret now weighed heavily on him. If only he had reined back after the gut-wrenching pain stopped. After many years, it had finally stopped. The recurrent nightmares and endless nights staring at the empty space beside him no longer haunted him. He had buried his sorrow, but had he buried more than he was aware?
'Oh God, what have I done?' Richard groaned, burying his head in his hands. 'Has it been that long since I've last seen the boy?"
Back in the changing room, Eric pranced around like a young boxer about to win his first fight.
"Pace yourself, son!" William cautioned, wiping the sweat off his body. "You still have two more hours."
Eric was at an all time high. His eyes glittered with excitement, nostrils flared and he was panting under his breath. The crowd was wonderful. He was wonderful. Everything was going great.
"Two hours? I can go on all night."
"Just pace yourself," William muttered, massaging Eric's shoulders as he shrugged into his final outfit. Someone rapped on the door.
"Time!" A stagehand popped his head in.
"Ready?" William asked, stepping back to survey the singer he had groomed; his wonder boy.
Eric gave the thumbs up, grabbed another bottle of drink, guzzled it down and sprinted to the stage. A few steps behind, William reached the edge of the curtain just as the lights dimmed. The sound of the crowd was overwhelming, almost hypnotic, pulsating with a life of its own.
At the entrance of reverberating techno-music, Eric sprang onto stage to another crescendo of manic screaming. He waved to his adulating fans, walking from one end of the stage to the other, shouting out his thanks.
Then, as the quivering notes of the electric guitar meshed with rhythmic drumbeats thrumming louder and louder through the air, he burst into action again. Weaving his magic, he writhed and twisted to the music, breaking away from the rest of the dancers to execute new moves that were not even rehearsed.
"This kid is out of this world tonight," William murmured as Eric made another impossible leap into the air. "Where did he learn that from?"
William dashed away a tear. Nostalgia hit him out of the blue. He remembered the sensitive young man, years ago, distraught, uncertain and asking for help. He remembered the smiles and the tears, the laughter and the heartaches. More than anyone else, he knew it was not an easy journey.
Tonight, Eric Su was different. The crooner of romantic ballads and heartrending songs of unrequited love had truly metamorphosed. He was one sizzling pack of dynamite, belting out new-age numbers with such raw power he practically blew the audience away.
The curtain calls were many. Everyone just could not get enough of the vibrant, fervent singer, giving the best performance of his life.
He went onstage again and again to thunderous applause, totally drenched in sweat, his hair and outfit plastered to his body. The crowds were truly in concert with him, singing and jiving at the encore, crying, screaming and clapping as one body. Ardent fans broke through the security barricade and rushed onto stage, piling bouquets upon bouquets of flowers into his arms.
Long drawn though it was, the curtain calls finally ended.
Backstage, Viki gazed in amazement at his changing room. It was swamped with flowers and presents and hordes of people.
In the narrow confines, Eric paced back and forth. Perspiration rained onto the ground. He was panting hard, his eyes glittering with a strange light.
Everyone was talking and laughing at the same time. It was difficult to hear what was being said.
Standing beside him, Viki shouted her congratulations but he was not listening. He was restless, breathing with his mouth open.
Just as she was about to repeat herself, he stopped short, looking dazed and disoriented. Without warning, his eyes rolled back and he crashed onto William.
Horrified, Viki tried to catch him even as William grabbed him on reflex. His fingers slipped and Eric hit the ground, splattering sweat all over the place.
"Get an ambulance! Get an ambulance!" William yelled, bending over the unconscious man, fear stark on his face. Eric's body was rigid. He appeared to be in shock, his breath jerky.
Frightened at the sight of his bloodless face, Viki held onto Eric, screaming his name.
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