Elisabeth found the keystone in the secret vault of the Chateau du Landgraab. She couldn’t understand the reason why James Vaughan chose to hide it right there, but it was the last thing that mattered. Elisabeth wished she had more time in order to help Jean Luc Beaumont unveil the truth behind the mystery of Anastasia Necteaux’s disappearance, but unfortunately the train to Monte Vista was leaving at noon. They packed their few things and headed out for the last walk through the streets of Champs Les Sims.
“I had such a great time with you, Elisabeth,” told her Benjamin with one hand behind his back.
“Yeah, me too. I wish we could stay a little longer…. What’s that behind your back?” she asked him curiously.
“Oh, you mean… This?” he said and gave her the bouquet of roses he was masterfully hiding behind his back all the way from the hotel.
“Wow! Where did you-” she said in astonishment, but didn’t finish her question. The smell of roses was simply mesmerizing. “Thank you, Benjamin. You really surprised me,” Elisabeth smiled at him.
“Don’t mention it. I’d buy you a whole field of roses if I could afford it.”
“You don’t need a field of roses to show me your love,” said Elisabeth and blushed. “There are other ways…,” she added and looked into his baby blue eyes.
“You have no idea how much I love you, Elisabeth. I have never felt this way before,” he said as he gently caressed her cheek. “When you come back home from China-” he suddenly paused and looked to the side.
“When I come back home from China…?” Elisabeth demanded to know the rest.
“You’ll see,” told her Benjamin and kissed her. Elisabeth didn’t insist on knowing what he wanted to say, also because she probably knew.
“Let’s take one last picture together?”
“Why not,” agreed Elisabeth. I just hope it’s not our last picture ever, she thought to herself.
They returned to the hotel to pick their luggage and pay the bill. After the receptionist wished them a pleasant journey, Elisabeth and Benjamin headed towards the train station.
“Are you sure that I should come with you?” Benjamin hesitated for a moment when their train arrived at the station.
“Of course I am,” she winked at him and got on the train. “Plus you already have the ticket.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. Benjamin was a little nervous about meeting Elisabeth’s parents. He remembered the day he first met Kate. Benjamin was almost certain she disliked him. He could never forget the look she gave him after they found his daughter playing in the puddle outside in the rain, all alone and at night.
“Hurry up, the train will depart soon,” told him Elisabeth and reached out for their luggage. “By the way, you’ve already met my mother, remember?” she added.
“Yeah… I remember well.”
“And I’m sure my dad will like you, too. Did I tell you he’s a vegetarian?”
“No,” he said absently.
“You’ll find something to talk about, don’t worry,” Elisabeth encouraged him. When Benjamin finally got on the train, they went to search for their seats. When the train driver started the engine and the train slowly began to move, Elisabeth glanced out of the window to give one last look at the beautiful landscape.
“One day we’re going to see the Eiffel tower. I wonder what’s the view from its top like.”
“I heard there’s a restaurant, but I guess it’s very expensive.”
“Well, let’s make sure to bring a lot of money next time,” Elisabeth smiled at Benjamin and sat back in her seat.
Later that afternoon…
“It’s great to be back home,” Elisabeth said happily when the taxi dropped them off in front of her home. She was finally back after nearly half a year spent in China. “So, are you ready to meet my parents?”
“I guess…,” Benjamin sighed heavily and got out of the car.
“Come on, there’s nothing to worry about!” Elisabeth tried to encourage him.
“You know… That day, when you found Chloe… I think she doesn’t like me.”
“No. Your mom.”
“That’s nonsense! She saw you like for what, two minutes? You don’t get to know a person in such a short time!”
“True. But it’s more than enough to make a bad first impression…”
“Everybody has the right to a second chance,” Elisabeth smiled at Benjamin and took his hands in hers. “I love you, Benjamin. And so will my parents. I promise.”
“I hope you are right.”
As soon as Elisabeth opened the door, Snowball came out running and started joyfully jumping on her leg.
“Nice dog,” told her Benjamin and when he pet the dog his mood suddenly improved. “What’s his name?”
“Snowball, but I call him Snow. Hey, Snow! How are you? Did you miss me? Oh, I know you did! Come here, boy!” Elisabeth happily called at him and rubbed his belly. Then Snowball quickly ran down the stairs, bit his teeth into the newspaper and hurried back to the house.
“Hello? Anybody home?” Elisabeth called from the living room, but heard no answer. She realized her brothers were at the university and the only people in the house were probably just her parents. Elisabeth decided to follow Snowball, since he was the only one who knew where everybody was.
When Elisabeth opened the door to the terrace, she couldn’t believe her eyes. We’ve got a pool?! With a DIVING BOARD?!?! And a… sauna?! she thought to herself when she looked around.
“Wow, your home is amazing,” told her Benjamin when he stepped out onto the terrace.
“Yeah… It really is,” Elisabeth said absently. She was overwhelmed as much as he was.
Kate was raking leaves by the garden house. “Look, I think we found your mom,” Benjamin informed Elisabeth and pointed in Kate’s direction.
“Yep, that’s my mom,” Elisabeth smiled to herself. “Oh, would you mind if I went to say hello alone? You know, I’ve been gone for a while…”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll wait for you here.”
Elisabeth passed along the swimming pool and walked up three stairs leading to the garden house where Kate was raking the fallen leaves. “Hey, mom. I’m home,” she said with guilt in her voice. She was supposed to come back home after two weeks, but it took her nearly six months.
“Oh my goodness!” Kate exclaimed in dismay and dropped the rake. “Elisabeth! You’re home!”
“I’ve missed you so much!”
“Me too, mom, me too.”
“So how was France? When David comes back from the theater you have to tell us everything!”
“Sure… Did you get my postcard?”
“Postcard?” wondered Kate.
“Yes, the one I sent you from Champs Les Sims.”
“No, nothing came.”
Shoot. I hoped they would be expecting us both, Elisabeth thought to herself. “I’ve… I have sent you this postcard where… I… ahem… wrote that I would come back with someone.”
“Oh. And did you?” Kate asked her in excitement. She’s been dreaming about meeting Elisabeth’s French gentleman all the summer.
“Yes,” Elisabeth said and looked towards the terrace. “Mom, do you remember Benjamin?”
“Benjamin? I don’t know anyone by that name. Is that a French name?”
“A French name? Why? Mom, you probably just don’t remember him.”
“So he doesn’t come from France?” asked her Kate.
“No, I mean, we met in Champs Les Sims,” Elisabeth lied to her mother. “But no, he’s not French. He comes from Moonlight Falls.”
“Wait a moment, is he the irresponsible parent who let his daughter play outside in the rain?” Kate asked Elisabeth when she spotted a familiar face.
Oh, mom! I really hoped you wouldn’t say that, Elisabeth thought to herself. “Yeah… that’s him. And he’s not irresponsible,” she said in Benjamin’s defense. “It was actually his girlfriend’s fault.”
“I see. And does his girlfriend know where he’s now, or should I rather ask – with whom?”
“It’s not like that, mom. Plus, they’ve split up,” Elisabeth objected. “By the way, it wouldn’t make me feel nice if I knew someone was talking about me and looking at me the way you are looking at him right now.”
“I’m sorry, Elisabeth. He’s your friend, I shouldn’t behave this way,” Kate apologized. “I guess you must be hungry, why don’t you go try out the sauna while I prepare something tasty?”
“Great idea, mom. Thanks,” Elisabeth smiled at Kate, but deep down she knew that Benjamin was right. If this was the first thing that came to Kate’s mind, she probably really didn’t like him that much. Was it so hard to say: Yeah, it’s that guy we met that day we took Orion to Bill’s horse retirement ranch? No, it wasn’t. However, in Kate’s eyes, he was the irresponsible parent who let his two year old daughter play outside after nightfall, but Elisabeth was decided to change that.
“It’s nice to see you, again, Benjamin. Make yourself at home.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Loewe. It’ very nice of you.”
“Don’t mention it,” she said dryly.
“Here, I think it will fit you,” Elisabeth put Finn’s old swimsuit in his hand. “I’ll wait for you over there,” she said and pointed at the sauna.
“The bathroom is to the left,” told him Kate when Benjamin walked in the house searching for a place to change in the swimming costume.
“Okay. It’s official. She hates me.”
“No, she’s just… It will pass. When she gets to know you better, I’m sure she’ll take fancy to you,” Elisabeth tried to comfort him. “Do you remember when I told you that my mom grew up in an orphanage? She never got the chance to know her parents, so I think she just despises all parents who don’t look after their children the way they’re supposed to.”
“Hmm… maybe,” pondered Benjamin.
“From the few things I know about my mother, she used to work in the orphanage where she grew up. Maybe mistreating children has a stronger emotional impact on her than on anybody else, but we both know how much you love Chloe, so I wouldn’t be bothered by her initial distrust.”
“Dinner’s ready!” Kate called at them from the terrace.
“I hope you like hamburgers, Benjamin.”
“Y-yeah,” he muttered. Elisabeth gave him an uncertain look.
“Please, sit down,” prompted Kate. Benjamin sat down next to Elisabeth and Kate passed him a plate with two big hamburgers.
“I’m not so hungry. One’s fine for me,” he said politely.
“Oh, come on, Ben. You’re a man! I’m sure you can handle it,” Kate smiled at him. Benjamin thought for a moment if Kate knew he was a vegetarian and cooked this meal on purpose, but soon he came to a negative conclusion.
“My husband is a vegetarian, so I only get to eat meat when kids are home. You see, now that the boys are away, cooking for two isn’t so easy. We often have to throw away the leftovers. So, imagine cooking two different meals,” Kate laughed while Elisabeth and Benjamin exchanged looks.
“I didn’t know you had brothers,” said Benjamin and took a bite of the bread on his hamburger.
“No? I thought I told you… Finn and Zac. They’re older than me,” Elisabeth said with her mouth full.
“They’re studying at the Sims University in London. Finn is pursuing a degree in Technology and Zac is studying Communications, but I’m not so convinced that he wants to become a journalist one day. He’s already written a dozen of novels, quite impressive given his age I must say. Some of them are very promising,” Kate praised the twins.
“Really? I’d love to read them,” smiled Elisabeth.
“You can, we have copies of all those he published.”
“You’ve missed some things while you were gone, Liz.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “Is there anything else I’ve missed?”
Kate looked at the lighthouse and paused for a moment. “George has passed away.”
“W-what?” Elisabeth asked in confusion. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Liz. You weren’t here.”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t have come back for the funeral?!” Elisabeth screamed at her mother, anger flooding her eyes.
“I hate you!” she added, slammed her hamburger down on the plate and ran inside. Benjamin excused himself from the table and ran after Elisabeth. He found her in the living room putting her clothes on her red swimsuit.
“I’m sorry, Elisabeth,” he told her and hurried to the bathroom to change his clothes. When he came out, Elisabeth was no longer in the living room. Benjamin heard a car engine start and when he looked out of the window, he saw Elisabeth inside the car.
“Where are you going, Elisabeth?” he asked when he opened the door at her side.
“What do you mean away? You’ve just come back…”
“Yeah. I made a mistake.”
“Come on, get out of the car. Talk to your mother about this.”
Great, Benjamin thought to himself and ran a hand through his hair. “Fine, wherever you’re going, I’m coming with you.”
Kate was shocked by Elisabeth’s behavior. She remained sitting in the chair for a long time thinking about what just happened. Her daughter would never scream at her that way. This wasn’t the Elisabeth she knew. Something about her daughter has changed.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Kate whispered to Lady. “We have to know what happened in France. We have to find out what happened to her. This is not my daughter. This isn’t Elisabeth.”
After less than an hour, Elisabeth and Benjamin were back.
“Mom? Are you in here?”
“It’s better if I go to search for a place to spend the night. I think you need some alone time with her.”
“No, don’t leave… I’m really sorry for before. I don’t know what got into me…”
“Tonight is about you and your mom. You should tell her the truth.”
“Are you out of your mind? If she knew, she’d lock me in the house forever!”
“You’re back already? That was fast,” Kate interrupted them. When Elisabeth heard her voice, she quickly let go of Benjamin’s hands. “Do you really think I don’t know what’s going on here? I may be getting old, but that doesn’t mean I’m as naive as you may think, Liz.”
“So, since I presume that my daughter isn’t going to reveal her secret, tell me, Benjamin, what am I supposed to lock her up for?”
Elisabeth’s face turned white with fear. What if he’s going to tell her? He just told me to tell her the truth! This is the end! I won’t be able to restore the peace in Shang Simla! The poor people will be terrorized by the undead forever! And all this is my fault. This is frustrating. I have to stop this… Oh, how I wish something unexpected happened. Like an earthquake or…
“ELISABETH!” David called her name from the door. She was saved.
“Dad!!! I’m so happy to see you!” she exclaimed in relief and hugged her dad. You have no idea. Thank you so much for coming to my rescue, Elisabeth thought to herself.
“And I’m delighted to see you, sweetheart! God, I’m so glad you’re back home! What took you so long?”
Elisabeth let go of his embrace, looked at him with the ‘this is not the best moment’ look and just smiled. David realized, that Kate still didn’t know so he quickly changed the argument. “And who are you?” he asked Benjamin as if nothing happened.
Kate looked suspiciously first at Elisabeth, then at David and finally, at Benjamin. “All right, people. Is someone finally going to tell me what’s going on?”
“I think it’s better if I leave,” interjected Benjamin and looked helplessly at Elisabeth. Not even in a dream he imagined that getting to know her parents would turn into a nightmare.
“Where would you go at this hour, young man? You’re not from here, am I right?” asked him David.
“Dad, this is my boyfriend, Benjamin Thomas. Benjamin, this is my dad,” Elisabeth finally spoke up.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Loewe.”
“The pleasure is mine, Benjamin. Please, call me David,” David smiled at him and they shook hands. When Kate heard THAT word, all her dreams collapsed like a house of cards. This irresponsible father was her daughter’s boyfriend. And when she thought things couldn’t get any worse…
“You can stay the night and leave tomorrow,” told him David. “If you really have to, that is,” he added with a big smile. Benjamin felt relieved. Elisabeth’s dad seemed like a good guy and it looked like he had no problem with him.
Unfortunately, Kate seemed to have a big one. “You’ll sleep in the twin’s room, Benjamin. And you, my daughter, you’ll sleep in your new bedroom,” she interjected.
My new bedroom? What does she mean? My old room… my old stuff… nothing of it exists anymore? Elisabeth thought to herself. Suddenly, the place she used to call home seemed so distant. Way too many things have changed while she was gone.
“Kate did a reconstruction of the first floor while you were in France,” David said with a grin.
“Reconstruction? Why? My old bedroom was perfect…”
“Come, let me show you,” Kate told Elisabeth and headed outside. Elisabeth looked at her dad helplessly and followed her mother to the first floor.
They walked up the new flight of stairs by the outdoor bar and turned left. Elisabeth found herself standing in front of her mother who held her hand on the door handle.
“Ready?” Kate asked her enthusiastically.
“I guess,” Elisabeth indifferently shook her shoulders. Kate opened the door and they stepped in the kitchen.
“So, how do you like it?” Kate asked Elisabeth expecting an overjoyed reaction from her.
“Well… the color isn’t exactly my favorite, but I think I will get used to it. Thanks, Mom.”
“I come back home and don’t recognize it. So many things have changed… You have changed… What do you want me to say?”
“I… I don’t know. I was just expecting a different… reaction…,” Kate sounded disappointed.
“Mom, it’s really nice of you… and dad, but you shouldn’t have…”
“Of course, we should have! We didn’t want you to live in the little girl’s bedroom forever. You’re a grown up woman, Elisabeth. Plus don’t you want to have a family, too?” asked her Kate and uncomprehendingly looked at her daughter. “One day,” she added as soon as she saw the look on Elisabeth’s face.
“You know that I’m not so fond of kids, Mom,” Elisabeth told Kate a little lie. She knew her mother was right, but she just couldn’t admit to her that that day wasn’t so far away.
“Well, I had you when I was thirty-two, so you still have time. I’m sure it will change as you get older,” Kate smiled at her daughter trying to ease the tension. “Just remember that this will always be your home, no matter what.”
“I know, Mom. Thanks,” Elisabeth smiled at Kate and hugged her.
“If you don’t like the colors, we can change that,” Kate whispered to Elisabeth.
“I’ll think about that,” Elisabeth whispered back.
“Do you like the balcony?”
“Wasn’t it always here?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t accessible.”
“Good point,” admitted Elisabeth and smiled at her mother.
“As you can see you can finally spy on your brothers,” laughed Kate.
“Didn’t you say I was a grown up woman?” teased Elisabeth.
“Come on, Liz, I’m just joking,” told her Kate and walked back inside. “Come, the tour isn’t over yet. Let me show you the living room.”
As they walked through the corridor connecting the kitchen to the living area, Elisabeth couldn’t miss the painting hanging on the wall.
“I found this lying on the floor in the garden house. It’s a very nice painting, Liz, I think it deserves to be exposed,” said Kate, but Elisabeth couldn’t concentrate on what her mother was saying.
“If I remember well, you began working on it after your return from China, am I right?” continued Kate, but Elisabeth didn’t answer. All at once she felt very sleepy. Something made her close her eyes, as if trying to prevent her from looking at the painting.
“Is everything alright, Liz?” asked her Kate, but Elisabeth showed no reaction.
Only after she came closer to her and touched her, Elisabeth opened her eyes. She walked to the painting and ran her fingers over the layers of dry paint and began speaking in a foreign language neither Kate could recognize.
Then suddenly, Elisabeth finally opened her eyes. She looked scared.
“Liz, you’re scaring me! Tell me what’s going on!” demanded Kate.
Elisabeth looked at Kate. She saw anger and desperation in her mother’s eyes. She’s been lying to her all this time. How long could she keep everything a secret? Plus her dad didn’t know all the truth. What would happen if she told them she was cursed? Would they believe her? Would they think she’s crazy?
As she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she saw nothing else but a liar and a traitor. Elisabeth couldn’t live with herself this way any longer. She had to come clean. But was this the right moment? It was never the right moment for unpleasant discussions…
“I know there is something you’re hiding from me, Liz. I’m not stupid.”
“I have to tell you something, Mom,” sighed Elisabeth. “Promise me, you won’t freak out and won’t be mad at dad. It’s not his fault. I asked him not to tell you, because I knew you wouldn’t let me go back.”
“What are you saying? I don’t understand,” said Kate and looked puzzled.
“Do you promise?”
“I promise. Now, tell me.”
“Alright,” Elisabeth swallowed nervously. “I haven’t been in France, as you thought,” she began. “Actually, I visited Champs Les Sims only because I was searching for something I knew was located there.”
“What do you mean, Elisabeth? Where have you been then!?” Kate started to feel a wave of panic wash over her.
“I returned to China.”
“China? Why would you go back to China?!”
“Because I really liked it there the first time, but it’s not the reason why I returned. I returned because when I visited Shang Simla with dad, something weird happened…”
“What? Could you be more specific, Liz?”
“Okay,” said Elisabeth and took a deep breath. “I sneaked out of the hotel at night and walked to the Dragon cave where I-”
“Dragon cave?!” interrupted her Kate and her eyes widened.
“Yes. It’s where important people are buried… Emperors and alike,” explained Elisabeth. “So, as I was saying, I sneaked out of the hotel and entered the cave. Then I came by a couple of sarcophaguses… I was very curious to see what was inside, so… I just gave a quick look. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quick enough. A bright, yellow light shone out from the darkness and I felt a sharp pain in my chest… I promised to myself that I would return to find out what happened and that’s when I learned about the curse,” told her Elisabeth, wiped a tear off her eye and looked at her mother. Kate didn’t say anything, she was silently staring at her daughter, trying to process everything Elisabeth just told her. Elisabeth couldn’t tell, if Kate was in shock or if she was trying to figure out whether her daughter was serious.
“Listen, Mom. I know it sounds crazy, but everything I said is true… Dad only knew I was in Shang Simla, but he has no idea about the curse. Could you please not tell him? I think I should do it myself,” Elisabeth asked her mother, but this time it was Kate who didn’t answer.
“Come, I’ll show you your new room,” she said instead as if nothing happened.
“O-kay,” Elisabeth agreed, dumbfounded. She expected her mother to freak out or complain about how irresponsible her daughter is. This ‘nothing’ was the least she’s expected.
Elisabeth wasn’t surprised when she saw her new bedroom. It was all pink. Pink wallpaper, pink curtains, pink bedding… She’s never seen so much pink in one place. I wonder if she knows that my favorite color is green, Elisabeth thought to herself as she observed the room.
“Mom, you know my favorite color is green, right?”
“Of course, I do,” assured her Kate. “Fuchsia is very trendy this season, I thought you’d like it.”
“Well, it may be trendy, but it doesn’t mean everybody likes it.”
“I told you, we can redecorate,” told her Kate and looked at a photo of David and Elisabeth as a toddler. “I can’t believe you were so tiny,” she said nicely. “David has always loved you to pieces,” Kate smiled at Elisabeth. “You’ll always be his little girl,” she added sadly.
Elisabeth didn’t know what to say. She loved both her parents with all her heart, but somehow she felt her relationship with Kate has been always different. Maybe it was because her mom never felt the love of her parents, maybe it was because of something else.
Elisabeth glanced at the shelf above the desk and one particular picture caught her attention. It was the photo from her prom night. She went with her imaginary friend-turned real, Hesper. I wonder how he’s doing, Elisabeth thought to herself as she approached to give a better look at the picture. I should pay him a visit soon, she concluded.
“There is one more room I’d like to show you,” said Kate as she approached her daughter. “I know what you said about children before, but I would like to show you the room next door anyway. Please, follow me.”
I really hope you didn’t do that, Elisabeth said to herself at the thought of the room next door being a nursery for her unborn child.
As soon as Elisabeth stepped in the room, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her mother has really built a nursery and furnished it in the shades of blue. So she wants a grandson? Elisabeth thought to herself. As much as she tried, she couldn’t hide the unpleasantly surprised look in her eyes. On the second thought though, this room could come handy quite soon.
“I wished to decorate everything in the neutral whites, but I really wanted to have everything ready before your return home in the summer. They should have the white version of the nursery in stock by now, so in case, we can always exchange it.”
“Mom,” said Elisabeth and looked at her mother.
“You don’t like it, do you?”
“I think I’m pregnant.”
Meanwhile, David and Benjamin had the chance to get to know each other a little before going to bed. As Kate insisted earlier, David showed the twin’s room to Benjamin. However, if she knew that he was the father of her unborn grandchild, she would have probably behaved differently from the beginning and Benjamin could share the room with Elisabeth tonight.
“So, did she like the color?” David asked Kate when she came to the room and lied on the bed.
“She said she could get used to it.”
“So she didn’t like the color.”
“She didn’t,” sighed Kate.
“Well, we can always change that, right?”
“That’s what I told her.”
“I really like her boyfriend. He seems like a good guy,” David told Kate and lied down on the bed next to her.
“Well, he’s not perfect, but I think I can live with that,” admitted Kate. “Did he tell you about his daughter?”
“About Chloe? Yes, yes, he mentioned her.”
“Did he speak about her mother? I want to know what is the reason they’re no longer together.”
“Does it matter?”
“It does to me.”
Elisabeth couldn’t sleep well that night. She kept on thinking about the curse, about Benjamin and their unborn child, about her visions in Shang Simla and how she escaped her certain death by the meteor at the phoenix Academy…
She stood up from the bed and walked to the window. Elisabeth noticed two horses by the park. Seeing these beautiful creatures brought back her memories of Freya. Maybe it was time to get back in the saddle. Since she couldn’t fall back asleep, Elisabeth decided to take a walk in the night and meet with the wild horses. Before she was able to get to the park, one of the horses already went away. The one left was a black stallion with a horn on his forehead. I must be dreaming, Elisabeth thought to herself when she saw the horse. Unicorns don’t exist, do they?