Mei paced along the beach in front of their makeshift camp. Max had been gone for more than an hour, and she feared the worst. It had taken her some time to calm Uriel down, but before she even realized it, he’d fallen back asleep. Tears flooded Mei's eyes as she reminded herself to keep the faith. No matter what happened, they were all in God's hands.
She stopped pacing when she heard a noise behind her. Turning around, she saw Max, standing there, smiling at her.
Mei ran to him, crying and laughing at the same time. "Max, I'm so sorry. I was wrong to make us come here. I don't know what I was thinking. Let’s just go back home first thing in the morning," Mei rambled on as she held Max tightly.
"Baby, no. I was wrong."
She took a big step back and looked at him, scrunching her face in confusion. "Oh no, you’re a ghost. The Max I know wouldn't say that," Mei cried.
Max laughed. "You are impossible woman. Now that I finally understand your point, and I agree with you, this is the thanks I get?"
"Max when I thought I lost you—I can't do this without you."
He stepped closer to her, pulling her into his embrace. "Stop it. That was a garden lizard on steroids. I have fought bigger reptiles in my sleep."
"Yeah, Mr. Alligator Wrestler. Where did you learn to do that?" Mei asked.
"That's how I realized you might be onto something. If I hadn't seen you in danger, and I don't think I would have been able to do what I just did. I learned something new about myself."
"That was scary. I don't want to ever go through that again."
"Are you okay? Is there anything I need to kiss?" Max whispered as he leaned down to kiss her.
"Yeah, my butt for giving me a heart attack." She smiled before kissing him.
"Bend over," Max joked.
"Okay, but don't get mad. I got bit by something." Mei hesitated to even bring it up.
"Let me see. It can't be poisonous or you would have been... Just let me see." Max didn’t want to finish his initial thought."
"It's dark, babe. Watch the baby. I'll go wash it off in the ocean." Mei walked away. She could now relax knowing that her husband was safe.
When she returned, she joined Max who was sitting next to the fire.
"Is it bad?" he asked.
"It's fine. The salt water will kill any bacteria. It’s really not that bad." Mei didn't tell him it was a snakebite and that she had two puncture wounds on her ankle; however, she knew it was a non-venomous snake, or she would have been dead by now.
"It’s been one hell of a night," Max yawned.
"I know, and we haven't even started yet."
"Let's go to bed. It's only a couple hours to sunrise, and tomorrow is another long day." Max stood up and stretched before offering his hand to help Mei to her feet.
They made themselves comfortable, sleeping on either side of their son, fearing he would wake before them and wander off to the ocean or forest. Max and Mei slept lightly, waking at the slightest sound or movement Uriel made. By sunrise they were up and ready to hike their way to the campus. They were soon hot, sticky, hungry and exhausted. After a few hours of trudging through the forest, they came to a clearing. Just a few more yards and they would be climbing the front steps to the college.
Max and Mei were not alone. Many other students walked like zombies to the registration hall. Tidbits of conversation came to Mei’s ear, and she soon realized everyone had been left stranded on various locations around the island and had all had to hike their way back to campus.
Mei spotted two other couples with young children. They argued amongst themselves as they walked towards the campus steps. Mei knew what that felt like. If she and Max hadn’t been so exhausted by their trek, they’d most likely be arguing right now as well. Walking under the boiling heat of the sun was causing people to want to kill each other. Tempers rolled high and patience was all but gone.
Grateful that they had pre-registered, Mei smiled when a staff member led them to a private, meeting room with other couples who also had young children with them. Max and Mei found a seat in the class while everyone waited for a staff member to explain what was happening.
A professor entered through a side door. Everyone grew quiet as the professor called everyone’s attention.
"Good morning," the professor greeted loudly. In his fifties, he was an average height man with a slim build.
He walked to the front of the room with a sure and confident stride. He cleared his throat and began to speak. "First I would like to welcome you all to King Solomon's College of Divine Wisdom. My name is Professor Adam Boyd, and I have taught at this college for over twenty-five years. I will be your spiritual warfare professor. This year we are trying something new. Normally, we do not allow young children at this college for safety reasons; however, the board has requested we temporally change our policy and allow young families to attend. Our campus is not equipped with the necessary facilities for children. Changes are being made as we speak to correct this. In the meantime, I will be assigning the first mission." He looked around the room. "I want all the fathers to stand."
All the men hesitated, but eventually stood up. The professor looked at each one of them carefully, nodding his head as if speaking to himself. "How many of you knew that you would be in this situation?" he asked.
No one raised their hand.
"Sometimes, God chooses the most unlikely to carry out his important missions,” he stated. "Okay, sit down. I know you are all tired."
Everyone sat down without a word. Toddlers were getting fussy in the background, and mothers were trying to comfort them. Uriel was no exception as he threw himself back into his mother’s arms, no doubt frustrated and hungry. Mei handed him to his father as she quickly searched for toddler snacks for him. Max rocked and gently calmed his son as Mei finally found a box of animal crackers, Uriel's favorite snack.
"I will make this quick,” Professor Boyd went on. “We don't have coed dorms, so until the dorms are built, you will have to stay in separate dorms."
A mixture of groans, sighs, and cheers circled the room. Max and Mei looked at each other. This would be a problem. Uriel was used to sleeping in the same room with both his parents. In the middle of the night, he would only want his father to rock him back to sleep or insist on sleeping between his parents. They watched as Uriel contentedly ate his cookies. He was now happy in his own realm.
"I don't know how you will want to work out your schedules, taking turns and what not, but this will be a part of your second assignment from my class."
Everyone began to talk amongst themselves.
"Yes, your first assignment was last night, and telling by the fact that you are still here, I know that I have succeeded in weeding out the weak and have found the strong ones. Over the past two days, sixty, young families have been left stranded on the beach or in the forest and you guys are the first to stay and stick it out. I am very proud and eagerly look forward to working with you all."
Everyone was quiet, shocked by what they’d heard. They could see that this college would test them when they least expected it. A student in the back of the room raised her hand to ask a question. The professor nodded to her.
"Professor, what will we do when we need to go to class?"
"We have an on-campus childcare center. It is brand new and we have an excellent staff,” the professor answered and then turned to point to another student. "Yes, you, in the back there."
"How long will it be before a coed dorm is built?"
"When you come to class on Monday, I will be able to answer that question for you."
Mei leaned over to Max and whispered to him, "What are we going to do?"
"Let me take him tonight. You really look tired. Besides, if he cries for me in the middle of the night, it won't be a problem."
"Okay," Mei whispered, but she felt a profound sadness pass over her. This would be the first night she’d sleep without her two, favorite men. Already, she felt lonely and sick to her stomach.
"Are you okay?" Max asked.
"Yeah, babe, I'm fine." He always had a knack for seeing right through her and though she tried to hide her sorrow, she knew Max could read the sadness in her eyes. Nothing he could say would take that away.
The professor pointed out that the two, faculty-staff members at the back of the room would guide them to there dorms. Mei reluctantly handed Max the baby bag, kissing her son and Max goodbye as if she would not see them ever again.
"Baby, stop it,” Max said in a soft hush. “I'm just going to see the dorm and settle in. Maybe bathe him with me, and then we can meet in the cafeteria for something to eat."
"Okay, I'm sorry, I know. It's just hard for me. I’ve never spent the night apart from Uriel and you. It's going to be odd," Mei complained.
Max leaned down and kissed her. "We always have our dreams," he smiled before turning and leaving with his group.