“So, what’s the plan B?” Kate asked Sebastian when they both collapsed down in the portable retro armchairs sitting on the burning sand by the van. Yesterday was a difficult day for everybody and none of the four got much sleep last night. The mosquito midnight ambush was one of the reasons, but Kate’s never-ending stream of questions was the real cause. In Sebastian’s eyes, the most annoying mosquito of them all was Kate. The kind that’s very hard to silence.
“There is no plan B. I told you already yesterday,” Sebastian sighed heavily, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “Listen, Kate. I’m truly sorry. I really thought that my plan would have worked out,” he added casually. Last night’s conversation has drained away all of his remaining compassion.
“That’s what everybody thought! I trusted you, Sebastian!” Kate yelled at him desperately, utterly amazed by the lack of interest in his voice. “I… I think that I cannot rely on you anymore. I’ll have to find him myself.”
Benjamin wasn’t paying much attention to their conversation until now, also because he was more interested in Reese lying half-naked on the beach towel and roasting herself in the midday sun. However, when he heard Kate yell at Sebastian, the red light on his imaginary problem detector switched on.
Reese, on the other hand, couldn’t really let herself be bothered by the loud conversation and, completely undisturbed, she continued to enjoy the hot weather with the most peaceful expression on her sun-kissed face that Benjamin has ever seen. The sighting made him almost think that Reese didn’t actually care that much about finding Nathan and considered this trip a vacation rather than the rescue mission she’s signed up for.
“Kate, please… There’s no need to raise your voice. I think that they’re simply hiding him from us and got scared by my uniform, that’s all.”
“You had to think about a different way of getting in then!” she continued, tears running down her cheeks.
“Did you seriously wanted me to break in?!”
“Well, maybe! I knew that asking the receptionist wasn’t a good idea, but I thought you knew what you were doing,” said Kate and angrily wiped the tears away from her eyes.
“Fine. I made a mistake, alright? I am sorry, Kate. I really am,” apologized Sebastian.
“You better be, because now we’re stuck in here without a back up plan… Wait, where do you think you’re going?!” she looked at him, puzzled.
“To swim. I need to clear my head,” told her Sebastian as he walked towards the door of his van to change into his swimming costume.
“We have to come up with another way to get in the science lab!” Kate looked at him desperately. “We cannot give up now, Sebastian. I can feel he’s close.”
Sebastian remained silent as she watched his face. Suddenly, he looked very distressed and rubbed his forehead with the fingertips while his body tensed up. “I know, Kate, alright?” he said and nervously looked at Kate, who was still sitting in the armchair and looking even more miserable than before. “I know we have to figure something out. I really do… but could you finally give me a break so I can relax and hopefully come up with another plan? I’d greatly appreciate that,” Sebastian tried to sound reasonable.
“I… I didn’t mean to upset you, Sebastian. I just want-”
“Don’t say anything,” he interrupted her. “The sooner we find Nathan, the sooner we can all go home,” Sebastian attempted an encouraging smile and when he saw Kate smile back at him, he headed for the water. Kate picked the book lying on the table and opened it on page 182. The title read ‘Chapter Five: The Power of Positive Thinking’.
Benjamin was sitting by the fire, silently observing the situation. He was tempted to go to talk to Kate, but when he saw Sebastian jump in the lagoon, he quickly changed his mind. A swim in cold water was exactly what he needed on this hot sunny day. Maybe it was what everybody needed, actually… He took off the sweaty shirt and crawled inside the tent to put on his swimsuit.
Two minutes later, he was already standing above Reese asking her to join him for a swim. Reese didn’t look too interested, but Benjamin convinced her by telling her she would get a sunburn if she didn’t get in the water soon.
“The water looks… cold,” Reese said with hesitation as she observed the lagoon.
“Water is usually cold, especially after you’ve been sunbathing for hours…”
“I think I’ll just move my towel under the sunshade then.”
“Come on, let’s just get in!” Benjamin urged her to jump in the lagoon, but since Reese didn’t look like she was going to jump herself, he decided to push her in. However, Reese managed to balance herself and not to fall in the water. She flashed a very angry look at Benjamin and started walking away when he suddenly caught her hand and gently pulled her towards himself. Kate observed them from aside.
“I’m sorry, Reese. I shouldn’t have pushed you…,” he apologized.
“That was really stupid, Benjamin,” she frowned and pulled her hand away.
“It’ll be a shock when you jump in, but I assure you that you’ll really enjoy it afterwards. The cool water is very refreshing, especially on a hot day like today,” he said hoping she’d reconsider, but Reese just looked at him badly and without a word, she walked towards her towel. “As you want then,” he said under his breath and jumped in the water.
The water wasn’t cold, it was frozen. Benjamin’s head was hurting terribly, it felt like a thousand knives poking at his skull. After he resurfaced, he swam quickly across the lagoon trying to get away from the pain. Half way through, Sebastian called at him: “Hey, Ben! Come over here! I think I found something!”
“Okay!” Benjamin called back at Sebastian and swam towards the waterfall.
“Can you see that?” Sebastian pointed his hand at a glistening object below the surface of the water. “I think I found a treasure!” he rejoiced. “Could you dive down there to see what it is?”
“Oh, no. No, no, no! I’m not diving my head again. The water’s too cold,” said Benjamin and shook his head from left to right.
“I can’t keep my breath long enough to dive that deep…,” sighed Sebastian and sadly observed the golden glitter on the bottom of the lagoon.
“It’s probably just some junk anyway…”
“But what if it isn’t? What if it’s a real treasure? Are we just going to leave it there for someone else to find?”
“Yep. We are,” said Benjamin with a grin and swam towards the shore.
“What? You can’t just swim away like this, Ben!” Sebastian called after him. “We’ll share it fifty-fifty! I promise!”
Benjamin ignored Sebastian’s calling and instead, he swam towards Reese who decided to venture in the cool water at last.
“Hey,” he smiled at her as he swam closer.
“Hey,” Reese smiled back at him. “I’m sorry I behaved like a little brat before,” she said apologetically.
“It’s okay. It was my fault. I didn’t have to push you…”
“So, what did he find?” Reese asked Ben while looking at her father still swimming in the same spot.
“Probably just something worthless,” he said while observing her profile. Reese wasn’t as beautiful as Elisabeth, but she was a pretty girl nonetheless. In Benjamin’s eyes, no girl could ever surpass the beauty of his true love, no matter how pretty she was.
“My dad is really obsessed with pirates,” she giggled. “Half of the bookshelves in our living room is filled with books about them. He’s been trying to locate a real pirate treasure ever since I can remember… He’s even got a collection of treasure maps he mostly bought in various antique shops, but none of them has ever actually proven useful… Go figure.”
“That’s actually pretty cool.”
“What is?” asked him Reese, still observing her dad swimming in circles. Benjamin was about to start talking of the treasure maps, but then he got a better idea how to catch Reese’s attention.
“This!” he called out and when Reese turned her head back at him, he splashed her face.
“Benjamin!” she screamed at him, her face covered in chilly water. “What’s wrong with you?!”
“I guess you don’t really have any sense of humor, do you?” he asked carefully.
“You’re such an ass!”
“What’s going on in here?” Sebastian interfered.
“Benjamin is trying to be funny, but he’s epically failing,” she said to her father while gazing at Ben. “Just leave me alone,” she said offensively and looked away.
“Reese, I’m really sorry about this,” Benjamin apologized.
“Whatever,” she told him without raising her eyes to meet his.
“I guess I’ll get back to the shore then,” he said, looked at Sebastian who just shook his shoulders, and swam away from them.
Soon after Benjamin lied down on the sand to warm up also Reese and Sebastian swam back to the shore. Reese disappeared in the bushes behind the van while Sebastian sat down in one of the portable armchairs by the fire and invited Benjamin to join him.
“There might have been snakes, Reese. You could have peed in the water,” Sebastian said to his daughter when she returned back to her towel.
“I’m not five, dad! Geez!” she snapped at him and quickly lied down on the towel, facing away from the two. Benjamin and Sebastian exchanged embarrassed looks.
“Well, that didn’t come out as planned,” Sebastian said under his breath and looked in the fire. “Since the day when her sister ran away, Reese has become very difficult to deal with. She’s enclosed herself in her own world… She blames my mother for Amanda’s decision. I hoped that bringing Reese along would help us connect again. We used to have a great relationship me and her,” Sebastian smiled softly as he looked at his daughter.
“Do you know why Amanda ran away?” Benjamin asked Sebastian, unconsciously digging a hole in the sand with his feet. There was an awkward silence before Sebastian spoke.
“I’ve been asking myself this question for the past twelve months, Ben,” he sighed heavily. “The sad thing is that I still don’t know the answer…”
“Is this why you’re helping us find Nathan?”
“Maybe. I don’t know…” There was another moment of silence. Then Ben’s stomach growled. “Hungry?” Sebastian asked Benjamin, smiling.
“I’ll go get the toasting forks and some veggies, then,” Sebastian winked at him and went in the van to search for the forks, leaving Benjamin to his thoughts.
He soon found two toasting forks and after he finally scraped a decade old food remains off of them, he picked two onions and a couple of tomatoes from the mini-fridge, pierced them on the end of the toasting forks and walked back to the fire.
“So… do you at least have any idea where your daughter could be?” asked him Benjamin after Sebastian handed one fork over to him and sat by the fire.
“No,” he said honestly.
“Have you tried looking for her?”
“Of course, I have!” Sebastian suddenly raised his voice. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scream at you,” he immediately apologized. “I’ve spent an entire month on the road trying to find a trace of her… The only thing I know for sure is that Amanda isn’t in Monte Vista or in Hidden Springs. I thought she’d go back to our old home, but my sister tells me she hasn’t seen anyone in the house since we moved away.”
Benjamin felt the urge to tell Sebastian that Amanda was in Bridgeport with Zac, but the fact that she didn’t tell her family made him change his mind. Maybe there’s a reason why she wants to keep her whereabouts a secret… but why? He thought to himself as he observed Sebastian turning the fork in the flames. “I’m so sorry, Sebastian. I really hope she comes back home one day,” he said instead an placed his fork above the fire.
“We’re quite the desperate searchers, aren’t we?” Sebastian looked at Benjamin with empathy in his eyes.
“Mhmm… it seems we are,” Benjamin sighed, looking back at him. This was the moment he realized they had more in common than he initially thought. “I’ll dive down there tomorrow,” he said as he looked at the waterfall on the other side of the lagoon. “It’s about time you finally find the treasure,” Ben smiled at Sebastian whose eyes widened with excitement.
“Hey, watch your fork, mate!” Benjamin laughed when Sebastian’s onions caught on fire.
When the sun started slowly setting behind the rockies, Kate put the book aside, dressed in her swimming costume and walked towards the water. Reese was still lying on the beach towel, sleeping, unaware that the sun was nearly gone.
Kate found a spot to safely enter the lagoon and slowly submerged her body to her neck in the cool water. She liked the feel of the cold wet sand under her feet and the chilly breeze of the evening desert.
“Reese, honey, why don’t you join us by the fire? The sand isn’t warm anymore, I don’t want you to catch a cold,” Sebastian called at his daughter.
“Can you finally stop telling me what I should and shouldn’t do? I’m not a child anymore if you haven’t noticed,” she frowned.
“I think you should change your strategy, Sebastian. Your fatherly concerns aren’t doing any good to what’s left of your relationship with her,” Benjamin whispered to Sebastian.
“I had no idea you were a specialist in parenting,” Sebastian whispered back.
“Just for your information, also I have two daughters… and a son,” Ben informed him. “They are much younger than your children, but being a single dad has taught me more than you might think.”
“I see… So, what do you suggest?”
“Get on her friendly side. Be more of a friend than a father to her,” Benjamin told him, whispering.
“Hey what are you two whispering about?” Reese called at them from the towel.
“Nothing about you, sweetheart!” Sebastian assured her.
“What are you doing?!” Benjamin whispered, much louder this time.
“I don’t know, what am I doing?” Sebastian asked him, dumbfounded.
“This! You’re making everything worse!”
“Like the ‘sweetheart thing’. You have to ditch that. As well as every other name you used to call her when she was a little girl.”
“And also, you never answer ‘nothing about you’ to that question, because then she’ll know you’re obviously talking about her,” he explained. “Fine, let’s change the subject. She’s coming over here.”
When Sebastian saw Reese stand up, he bolted up from the chair and started warming his backside by the fire while Benjamin nervously observed his daughter approach. “What are you doing?!” Benjamin asked Sebastian through his teeth, but Reese heard him all the same. “Oh, hey, Reese!” he faked the surprise.
“You two are really funny thinking I have no idea what’s going on in here,” Reese said dryly.
“What is going on in here?” Benjamin played stupid.
“I must admit, I had much higher expectations of you, Benjamin. Turns out, you’re as clueless as my dad,” she told him and looked at her father who just innocently smiled.
“Well, we’re all kinda clueless as of how to get to my son right now, so actually, I am truly as clueless as your father or even as clueless as you.”
“True, but you two are clueless in your own kind of way – in a kid kind of way to be precise.”
“Sarcasm. Do I take it as your sense of humor?”
“Fine, enough of this theater. Why don’t you two just sit together while I fix a sandwich for Kate?” prompted Sebastian, quickly leaving the scene. Ben and Reese exchanged looks.
“You look cute when you’re clueless,” Benjamin smiled at her. Reese blushed. The ice is finally broken, Benjamin thought to himself as he watched Reese sit down in the armchair next to him.
“I guess you win this time. I give up,” she said and shook her head as she observed her dad hurry towards the van.
“Yippee!” Benjamin clapped his hands enthusiastically. Reese flashed him an awkward smile, but when Benjamin called ‘Yippee’ again, they both giggled.
“Is everything alright?” Kate asked Sebastian when she came back from her evening swim and heard Benjamin and Reese laughing together by the fire.
“Everything’s fine, why shouldn’t it be?” Sebastian asked from below.
“If everything is fine, then what are you doing here?” Kate looked at Sebastian sitting alone on the blanket.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean what do I mean?” Kate repeated Sebastian’s question and motioned at the picnic set up.
“Oh, you mean this?” he asked, pointing at the basket in front of him. “This is a basket with sandwiches I made. I thought you might be hungry by now. Wanna have some?” Sebastian asked her, smiling from ear to ear. Kate looked at him suspiciously and sat down on the blanket.
The two stared at each other for a moment before Kate spoke. “So, they talk to each other again?” she asked while looking at Benjamin telling something to Reese.
“Looks like. For now.”
“They didn’t look so friendly this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“So, what happened?”
“I have no idea,” he said honestly. “Maybe they remembered that they’re both adults and decided to finally behave like ones.”
“How old is Reese?” Kate asked Sebastian, who had to think for a moment before he answered her question.
“Thirty-three. I think.”
“You think? Seriously?”
“Well, I know that the third of May is her birthday, I just never remember exactly which year she was born… Anyway, why are you asking?”
“Just being curious. She looks younger than she is. I knew she was older than my daughter, I just didn’t know there was such a big year gap between them. Elisabeth would celebrate her twenty-seventh birthday this month…,” Kate trailed off, looking at the stars on the night sky. Sebastian took a sandwich out of the basket, placed it on a plastic plate and gave it to Kate. “Thank you,” she smiled at him and took a bite.
“Does she like to take pictures?” Kate asked Sebastian when she noticed the camera by Reese’s backpack.
“Oh yeah, she does. She’s no professional photographer, but she really enjoys taking vacation pictures. It’s thanks to her that we have some ‘normal’ family photos in our album,” Sebastian began. “My mother is very old-fashioned when it comes to family portraits. I don’t have a single picture from my childhood where I smile,” he paused for a moment, laughing at the absurdity of his mother’s severity.
“Both Reese and Amanda were quite the artists when they were little girls,” Sebastian continued. “I remember Reese once spilled the paint on the Persian carpet in our living room. My mother sent her to stand in the corner for the rest of the day.”
“Catarina sounds like a very strict grandmother,” Kate said between the bites and looked at Reese and Benjamin still chatting by the fire.
“She’s always been very strict when it came to punishment. She once said to my sister Francisca to leave and never bother coming back unless she was willing to marry the man our mother has chosen for her. We’ve never seen her since… She was the first woman in my life to ever run away from me. I was only a boy back then.”
“I’m so sorry, Sebastian. I didn’t know you had such a hard upbringing.”
“Don’t be. I was my mother’s little boy, she was mostly very nice to me… It was my sister who got always punished for the both of us. Francis ran away the day of her sixteenth birthday. I don’t even know what she looks like now…”
“I’m so very sorry, Sebastian. I had no idea what your mother is really like,” Kate pitied him.
Kate felt very surprised by Sebastian’s speculation, but then it suddenly hit her. Zachary’s voice sounded in her ears when she remembered what he wrote about Catarina in his good-bye letter.
(…) Amanda’s grandmother has been trying to prevent us from seeing each other all these years, she’s also the reason why Amanda didn’t go to the University with me as we’ve planned… Catarina Vanderburg will probably eventually show up here searching for Amanda. Be wary of her, she’s an evil person… probably got something to do with dark magic! (…)
“Oh my god!” Kate suddenly exclaimed, accidentally dropping the sandwich in her lap. “You don’t know where your daughter is!”
“No, Kate. I don’t know where Amanda is.”
“She… she hasn’t contacted you?” she asked him, concerned about Sebastian’s answer to her previous question.
“No,” he sighed. “Wait, how do you… Kate, is there something you’re not telling me?” Sebastian asked her directly, sounding very distressed.
All of a sudden, Kate didn’t know if telling the truth was a good idea. Her heart started beating faster. She was certain that Sebastian knew now that she knew something he didn’t know. Shifting her attention to Benjamin, who was conveniently taking a picture of Reese, Kate naively hoped she’d escape Sebastian’s question. “Reese is such a pretty young woman,” she quickly changed the argument, but Sebastian couldn’t care less.
“Tell me, Kate. What is it you know that I don’t?” he demanded.
“I know where she is, Sebastian,” she said guiltily and looked straight in his eyes.
“What? How do you… Oh, I see! How could I have been so stupid! She ran away with your son Zac! Am I right?” he cried out, his eyes quickly flooding with anger. It was impossible for Reese and Benjamin not to hear every word Sebastian shouted at Kate. The two exchanged very concerned looks, but decided not to interfere.
“Come on, Kate! Say it! Say that your son persuaded my daughter to run away with him!”
“Actually, you know what? Just don’t say anything! You can find Nathan by yourself, because I’m leaving the first thing in the morning!”
“Sebastian, please,” Kate tried to reason with him, but there was no point. Sebastian became completely hysterical.
“I’ve got a daughter to find and now that I know she’s with your son, it shouldn’t be too hard to locate them.”
“Do what you think is best, Sebastian. I’m not going to stop you or ask you for help anymore. Just know that I’m truly sorry. I had no idea it would have come to this,” Kate apologized.
“If you’re truly sorry as you say, then why don’t you make my life easier and tell me where they are?” Sebastian asked her with much calmer voice this time.
“Zac has asked me to keep their whereabouts secret. All I can tell you is they’re both alright,” Kate concluded. “Thanks for the sandwich,” she said, stood up to her feet and went to change from the wet swimsuit. Sebastian remained sitting on the blanket, silently observing the ants crawling in the basket and stealing crumbs from the leftover sandwiches.
“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Kate apologized to Reese and Benjamin.
“So, should we really start packing?” asked her Ben, sounding troubled.
“I suppose,” she said sadly and turned her head to look at Sebastian, who was still sitting on the blanket and absently staring at the basket.
“We don’t have to go back with him,” Reese interrupted the silence. “There must be some place in town where we can stay until we figure something out.”
“You know that Lucky Palms isn’t the cheapest place on this planet, do you?” asked her Benjamin. “I don’t know about you, but I cannot afford to spend a single night in one of its luxurious hotels!”
“Don’t worry about the money, Ben. It’s really not an issue,” told him Kate and stretched her neck. “What I am more concerned about right now is how we’re going to get inside the science lab.”
“I know that if we put our heads together, we’ll come up with something,” encouraged them Reese. “Actually, I already have a plan.”
“You do?” Kate and Benjamin asked her with one voice.
“It’s not the easiest or the quickest, but I thought about applying for a job at the lab,” Reese began. “There’s one problem, though. I need to look like someone else. I will also need a fake identification card so Dr. Simano won’t recognize me,” she explained.
“I don’t know, Reese. Doesn’t it sound too complicated?”
“Do you have any other plan, Benjamin?” she asked him with slightly offended tone.
“No,” Benjamin shook his head and desperately look into the dancing flames.
“Though so,” she sneered. “So, what do you think about my plan, Kate?”
“Well, it doesn’t sound too bad. We just need to prepare well and hope it works out,” she said hopefully. “I’m going for a walk now. Maybe something else will come to my mind,” Kate smiled at them.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Benjamin asked her worriedly. “It’s very late.”
“Don’t worry about me, Ben! I’ll be back soon!”
“Alright then!” he waved at her, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was going to happen to her.
After Kate disappeared in the dark of the night, Sebastian approached the fire. “Pack your things. We’re leaving in the morning,” he ordered.
“No we are not!” Reese protested.
“Kate and Benjamin are free to stay, but you’re coming home with me,” he flashed a strict look at Reese. “I’m going to sleep now, so it would be very nice of you if you didn’t make much noise.”
“Stop bossing me around, dad! I’m not your subordinate officer,” Reese shouted at her father.
“You are my daughter and you will listen to me!” he screamed back at her.
“Whatever,” Reese looked at him coldly and rushed towards the van.
“So much for improving your relationship with her,” Benjamin said to Sebastian when Reese loudly shut the door behind herself.
“Sir! Yes, Sir!” Benjamin teased him.
“Oh, just shut up, private,” Sebastian frowned as he crawled inside the tent.
Kate walked deeper in the desert, sand sinking under her shoes. She had no idea where she was going and just let the stars lead her way.
After twenty minutes of walking, Kate noticed an old rusty car atop a tall pile and a scary old tree with leafless dry branches moving and crackling in the wind.
“Junkyard in the middle of the desert?” Kate asked herself as she walked closer and could distinguish the objects forming the junk piles casting long shadows on the sand path in front of her. Rusty oil barrels, old tires, metal scrap of unknown origin, broken home appliances and…
Kate’s heart skipped a beat when she saw something move by the large pile of junk. Her legs froze in place, she wasn’t able to move. Oh, Benjamin! How I wish you were here! She thought to herself as she breathlessly observed the movement in the shadows.
“Who goes there?” asked a deep male voice. Kate got scared and rather remained silent, naively hoping he wouldn’t see her. As the man sat up on what looked like a bed, Kate started slowly walking away.
“Hey, you! Stop right there!” the man called after her. Kate’s heart started beating fast, she felt it could jump out of her chest any moment now. She was at a loss of ideas about what to do when suddenly, she saw a light in the bushes ahead of her.
“Come with me,” the ghost called at her. Kate hesitated. She didn’t know where the ghost would take her or why would he want to help her in the first place, but when she turned her head and saw the man approach, Kate decided to run. I must be completely out of my mind, she thought to herself as she approached the bushes.
“Where are you going?!” the man called after her. “Don’t go there! It’s dangerous!” he yelled at Kate when he saw she was headed for the abandoned mines. “You have no light! You’ll fall in a shaft and break your neck!”
Kate didn’t know if the man was telling the truth, but she decided to listen to her heart and ignore his warnings and blindly followed the specter into the depths of the abandoned mines.
The next day at dawn…
“Wake up! WAKE UP!” Reese called at Benjamin and Sebastian, trying to open the zipper of the tent.
“Reese… why are you screaming… what happened?” Sebastian asked her with a sleepy voice while Benjamin quickly unzipped the door of the tent and looked at Reese who was still in her PJ’s and shaking.
“I-It’s Kate! She’s gone!” she said as tears started running down her face.
TO BE CONTINUED
AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s official! I have finally decided to join the club and started using poses! Benjamin is a photographer and I’ve been wanting to picture him with the camera in his hands ever since he visited Shang Simla with Elisabeth. Thanks to TRAELIA’s pose pack I can finally do it! Yay!