Elisabeth was thinking about Benjamin all the way to the airport. She knew Sima was right. She was in love with Benjamin Thomas, but didn’t want to admit it. I heard France is the best place for a romantic vacation, Elisabeth recalled Sima’s words. I think she’s right, Elisabeth thought to herself.
“Excuse me, could you please cancel my plane ticket to France?” she asked the travel agent.
“Of course, Miss. Do you wish to make another reservation?”
“Do you fly to Moonlight Falls?”
“I’m not sure, just a moment,” said the travel agent. “Yes we do. Once a week.”
“Once a week?!” Elisabeth panicked.
“Do not despair, Miss, luck is on your side. The next flight to Moonlight Falls is this evening,” the travel agent nicely smiled at her.
Elisabeth arrived to Moonlight Falls the next day at noon. She had no idea where to search for Benjamin. She could call him to let him know she was in town, but she wanted to surprise him. Elisabeth sat on a bench in the airport hall and tried to figure out a way to find out where he lived.
“Of course! Why haven’t I thought of it earlier!” Elisabeth happily exclaimed when she remembered about Kate’s old friend Bill. She called a taxi and drove to Bill’s horse retirement ranch.
She walked onto the porch and rang the doorbell.
Elisabeth hoped that Bill was home.
She was lucky. A moment after, Bill opened the door and looked at Elisabeth. It seemed like he didn’t recognize her at first.
“Hello there, young lady! Are you looking for someone?”
“Hi, Bill. I’m Elisabeth Loewe,” said Elisabeth and politely shook his hand. “We’ve met a couple of years ago.”
“Oh, of course! You’re Kate’s little daughter! How could I not see the resemblance!” laughed Bill.
“It’s really good to see you, Bill. How are you doing?” asked him Elisabeth.
“I’m doing fine! But what about you? How come you’re in Moonlight Falls?”
“I’m searching for someone. Do you know by any chance where Benjamin Thomas lives?”
“Oh, I understand everything now,” Bill smiled to himself. “He lives right over there,” he informed her and pointed his hand towards Benjamin’s house next door.
“Yes. I’ve looked after his little daughter Chloe while you were in China,” Bill said casually.
“Thank you, Bill. Really, thank you so much!”
“Anytime!” he smiled at her. “I hope you’ve had a good time together,” he added and winked at Elisabeth.
“Oh, come on, Bill! We’re just friends!” Elisabeth said automatically, however, she knew she was lying.
“Even friends can have fun,” he said and absentmindedly looked in the distance.
“Bill?” Elisabeth interrupted his thoughts.
“Can I see Orion?”
“Oh… I’m sorry, Elisabeth. He passed away in spring.”
“Oh no,” whispered Elisabeth and a tear ran down her cheek.
“I know it makes you sad, but he was very old, Elisabeth. He didn’t suffer. I took a good care of him… He’s buried under that tree,” told her Bill and pointed at a tall pine tree in the corner of his vast garden. “I’ve got to be somewhere soon, but if you’d like we could go to the autumn festival one of these days.”
“Why not,” Elisabeth smiled at him and wiped the tear away.
“Very well then, I’ll see you around.”
“Bye, Bill. And thank you for everything,” Elisabeth thanked him and headed towards the little house next door.
Benjamin was raking leaves behind the house. It was early October, but the lawn was already covered with leaves of all shades of yellow and orange.
Elisabeth was about to go and ring the doorbell when she noticed him. Benjamin had no idea who was about to approach him and just silently minded his business.
The moment he raised his head, he saw her. Elisabeth was right there, walking towards him.
“Elisabeth? Is that you?” Benjamin asked in surprise.
“Elisabeth!” Benjamin happily called her name, threw the rake aside, ran towards her and hugged her tightly in his strong arms. “I’m so glad you’re alright! I missed you so much!”
“I missed you, too,” Elisabeth whispered in his ear.
“I was really worried about you… It’s been so long.”
“Yeah… A couple of months. I’m sorry I haven’t called, I was-”
“Shh,” Benjamin put a finger on her lips. “Don’t say anything. I just want to look at you,” he said. Elisabeth blushed.
“Your cheeks are like tomatoes,” Benjamin said after a while and smiled at her.
“I know,” Elisabeth looked down at her feet.
“I’m cute?” Elisabeth quickly looked up at him.
“When you’re shy.”
“I’m… Well…,” Elisabeth didn’t know what to say and her cheeks turned red even more.
“I like it,” Benjamin said gently.
“So… are you going to invite me inside?” Elisabeth tried to sound relaxed.
“Ahem,” Benjamin cleared his throat. Now it were his cheeks to turn red. “Well…”
“What’s the matter? Are you hiding something from me?” teased him Elisabeth.
“Come on, I want to see your place!” Elisabeth said eagerly.
“It’s really not the best moment… Could you go to take a walk and come back, let’s say, in an hour?”
“You’re funny,” said Elisabeth and walked towards the door.
“Okay, but I warned you!” Benjamin called at her and quickly walked after her.
Now I really want to know what you’re hiding from me, Benjamin, Elisabeth thought to herself and followed him inside.
The moment she stepped inside, a foul smell hit her nose. Benjamin certainly wasn’t a friend with cleaning products.
“I’m sorry about the mess. Please, don’t think badly of me. I’ll clean up right away,” told her Benjamin with a worried tone and rushed to the bathroom to pick the cleaning supplies.
When Elisabeth looked around, she didn’t want to believe her eyes. All the kitchen was covered in a layer of grease, filth and leftover food gone bad.
She’s never seen anything like that before. The stove hasn’t been cleaned in months and the foul smell was making her feel nauseous. How can he live in these conditions? And with a toddler? Elisabeth thought to herself on her way towards the fridge.
When she opened it, a green cloud of rotten smell hit her face. I think I’m gonna throw up, Elisabeth thought to herself and put her hand in front of the mouth.
“Here, I found a bucket and some detergents,” Benjamin handed the things over to Elisabeth and went to get Chloe who just woke up and started crying. “Just put it on the floor, I’ll be right back,” said Benjamin and helplessly looked at Elisabeth who was still keeping the hand on her mouth. When Benjamin left the kitchen, Elisabeth put the bucket on the floor, turned around and threw up in the sink.
“Do you know who’s come to see you, dumpling?”
“Who? Daddy, who?”
“Daddy’s friend Elisabeth,” said happily Benjamin.
“Elisabeb! ELISABEB!” Chloe screamed aloud.
Benjamin picked up his daughter from her crib and went back to the kitchen. Elisabeth was leaning on the sink, cleaning her mouth with cold water.
“Are you alright, Elisabeth?” asked her worriedly Benjamin and placed Chloe in the high chair.
“I’ll be fine once we clean this mess,” told him Elisabeth.
“You sound quite upset…”
“Of course I sound upset! Have you looked around yourself? It doesn’t exactly smell like roses in here.”
“I’m sorry, Elisabeth. I can explain-”
“There’s nothing to explain,” Elisabeth told him disinterestedly.
“Look, I didn’t know I’d be having visitors today. I was going to-”
“Oh, so you clean just when you’re expecting someone?” she interrupted him again.
“No… Please, let me explain,” begged her Benjamin. Elisabeth just looked at him without saying a word. “I’ve been really busy lately. Bill is helping me out a lot with Chloe. She’s been practically living at him for the past month… I’ve been working and traveling a lot and got back home only yesterday. I was disgusted myself when I found all this mess I left behind when I left for Bridgeport two weeks ago. I don’t usually live like this, you have to believe me. Please, say that you do.”
“Fine. Let’s make this place squeaky clean,” Elisabeth told him sternly and squeezed a soaked sponge in his hand.
“Great, now I don’t have to wash my pants anymore,” Benjamin pointed out as the hot soapy water wet his jeans. Elisabeth pretended she didn’t hear him. It took them good twenty minutes of silent cleaning to eliminate every last germ in the kitchen.
When they were finally done, Benjamin prepared a bowl of chocolate milk rice for Chloe while Elisabeth carefully picked some ingredients that didn’t go bad and started preparing the dough for a mushroom omelette.
As soon as she poured the dough on the pan, the appetizing aroma of champignons flooded the entire room and her mood improved instantly. Chloe also seemed to enjoy her food a lot more.
Benjamin noticed the change in Elisabeth’s mood and decided to slowly approach her. He hugged her from behind and whispered in her ear what a great cook she was.
After they ate the last piece of their late lunch, Benjamin immediately stood up from the table and went to wash the dishes. Elisabeth observed little Chloe playing with her sheep toy on the floor. She found it very hard not to think about all the germs living in the carpet.
But Chloe didn’t seem to mind.
“Time to hit the hay, little shepherd.”
“Mistel Cotton go sleep with Chloe?”
“Yes, Mr. Cotton can go to sleep with Chloe.”
“Yippee!” called happily Chloe as Benjamin bent down to pick her up. He raised his eyes to look at Elisabeth. She seemed worried about something.
“Good night, Chloe,” Elisabeth smiled at the toddler.
“Good night, Elisabeb!” Chloe waved at her with Mr. Cotton in her tiny hand.
After Benjamin read Chloe to sleep, he quietly closed the door of her bedroom and sat on the free sofa in the living room.
“I’m cursed, Benjamin,” Elisabeth said with sadness in her voice and searched for a sign of compassion in Benjamin’s eyes.
“Are you sure?” asked her Benjamin. His eyes widened with fear while the corners of his mouth twitched a bit, it almost seemed like he’d not believe her and took the news as a joke. A reaction that Elisabeth didn’t expect.
“Yes, I am,” confirmed Elisabeth with chilling seriousness. “Why are you smiling?”
“I’m not,” objected Benjamin.
“I’m not blind, I can see your corners twitch.”
“Uhh?” Benjamin shrugged his shoulders.
“I wish I wasn’t serious about this, but unfortunately, I am. I found the journal of the person… or rather, the supernatural being who was buried alive in the sarcophagus deep within the Dragon Cave. Do you remember the yellow light I talked about?”
“Well, that was his soul and it entered my body.”
“Why? I mean… What?”
“He’s got some unfinished business with his… murderer.”
“Oh. I see. So basically, because of his ‘unfinished business’ you’re gonna… What’s going to happen to you?”
“Nothing happens to me if he never comes back to life.”
“I’m not sure I understand?” Benjamin felt confused.
“If he stays imprisoned in my body forever, nothing is going to happen to me,” told him Elisabeth and looked to the side.
“And if he… or his soul… well… what happens if…”
“I’m going to die,” Elisabeth sighed heavily and looked at Benjamin..
“No, no, no, no, no! You’re not going to die! That’s such a nonsense! I’m going to protect you from this… spirit. We’ll live happily and have a big family. I promise this to you, Elisabeth,” Benjamin said very decisively and sat next to Elisabeth. She just smiled at him, or at least tried to, because she knew his dream was never going to come true. But she didn’t tell him. Not today. Not tomorrow. Elisabeth decided it was better not to tell him… or anybody else.
“Now, would you mind if I kissed you?” Benjamin looked deep into Elisabeth’s big gray eyes and put his hand around her shoulder.
“Not at all,” answered Elisabeth and gently tilted her head.
For a moment, Elisabeth forgot about everything. She wanted to enjoy this special minute of happiness while it lasted. Benjamin was talking and talking about all the things they were going to do together, but she didn’t listen. Elisabeth just looked at his happy face and wished that she had never entered that cursed place…
They cuddled on the sofa for nearly an hour and when Elisabeth started falling to sleep in Benjamin’s arms, he slowly stood up and went to his bedroom to get the bed ready for her. Elisabeth napped on the sofa for a while and when she woke up and didn’t feel Benjamin’s embrace, she went searching for him.
“Hey,” Elisabeth said with a sleepy voice when she found him in the bedroom.
“The bed is all yours. I hope you sleep well tonight…,” Benjamin smiled at her.
“…even though I honestly didn’t want to stop talking to you,” he said as he caressed her cheek.
“And where will you sleep?”
“Don’t worry about me. Sweet dreams, sweet Elisabeth,” he said and left the room.
“Good night,” Elisabeth yawned and walked towards the dresser to search for some shirt to sleep in.
Benjamin went to check on his daughter. He thought she was peacefully asleep for nearly two hours, but he was wrong. Chloe was a very smart toddler. She learned to climb out of her crib and play with her toys in the middle of the night.
“Well, well, well, look who’s hiding in the toy box!”
“Chloé, Chloé!” she giggled and closed the lid of the box, hiding herself from her dad.
“Okay, young lady, time’s up! Let’s put away the toys and get ready for bed, shall we?” told her Benjamin and to his surprise Chloe started putting away all her toys.
“That’s my good girl,” he praised his daughter and took her in his arms.
Chloe fell asleep almost instantly. Benjamin took a blanket from the wardrobe in Chloe’s room and went to sleep on the sofa in the kitchen. It wasn’t as comfortable as he thought it would be, but he could survive for one night.