Cassandra on the Island: Xeranthemums

The following is the last section of my novel Cassandra on the Island. You can read the previous sections here. Thank you for reading my novel.

xeranthemums

On the Street

“To continue with my drama,” Alisha sighed. “There I was soaking wet and humiliated with Vicki staring down at me. The client is furious and all I can think is…”

“Hush,” Cassandra whispered. It was not a typical whisper. It was the type of whisper used in churches and on sacred events.

Alisha didn’t take the hint; well, not right at first. “What? Did I already tell you this story?”

Cassandra pulled her car over to the side of the road. It was not as easy a maneuver as you might think for Cassandra. She had not driven in years and she was not the best driver to begin with. To add to the difficulty, this was her first time driving the vehicle. As per her instructions to the dealer, it was waiting for her in the parking lot of the airport. Just like any normal person’s car. That simple and minor point was a big deal for Cassandra. Normalcy was a goal to work for.

Cassandra turned in her seat to look at Alisha.

“What is it?” Alisha asked.

“Hush,” Cassandra said again. She slowly placed her finger to her lips to emphasize the point. “My house is on this street.”

This news excited Alisha and her attention was quickly turned to the street in front of her and the series of cottages. “Which one is it? Is that it, there?” For some reason, she thought for sure there was a sign in front of it or some kind of other man-made symbol to emphasize, ‘Here is the spot. This spot with the X.’

“Hush,” Cassandra whispered again.

“I barely said anything,” Alisha was annoyed. “You’re shushing me again? All I said was which was is it and is it there or something like that and I get scolded like a child.”

“Please, please,” Cassandra said with a brief smile. This was the first, the first in a series of events and dreams that had kept her alive while in Amsterdam. “Just give me this moment in silence. This one moment.”

Alisha nodded.

Cassandra replied with her own nod of thanks and returned her car to the driving lane…and slowly… and quietly they drove down the road to Cassandra’s house.

Alisha rolled down her window and the seagulls could be heard over the ocean. They were close to it and the waves could even be heard from time to time (if they were large enough). For Cassandra, it was hard to concentrate on the road.

At The Front Door

This is my home, Cassandra thought, This is really my home. I earned this.

It was just like the pictures. Two floors, white exterior with a gazebo on the right side of the yard. The backyard (if it was still like the plans) had a large porch with a swing, a series of trees lining a path to the beach and an old wooden dock. Above the front door was a small stainglass window with a single word carved in it: “Peace.”

Alisha stepped forward. Her foot almost touched the front and… she was pulled back in time by Cassandra. “Wait.”

“What?”

“I want to take this all in,” Cassandra whispered. “I want to be first.” Slowly, she placed her foot on the first step…. There… The step creaked under her weight…. Perfect.

First step.

Second step.

Third step. She was outside her front door. She placed the bag she was holding on the step behind her and traced the doorframe with both of her hands. Her front screen door… no, not yet.

A part of her wanted to run to the back porch, push the porch swing (make sure it squeaked) watch the ocean (make sure the waves were lapping correctly), count the trees and their leaves, make sure the grass was taken care of… but there would be time for that later. Now she had to deal with the door.

Key.

The main door swung easily open into her living room. It was already filled and decorated with the furniture she had picked out. A single tear traced down her face. She didn’t have the strength to brush it away.

Cassandra was home.

On the Porch Swing

“You should see my closet, it is huge,” Alisha said. “I don’t even have enough clothes for it. It’s almost bigger than my bathroom.”

Cassandra smiled. “Mine reminds me of the wardrobe from a children’s book I used to love.”

“Which one?”

“Oh, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis,” Cassandra took another swig from her beer.

“I was never much of a reader as a child,” Alisha said. “I was more into soccer. What’s it about?”

“Well,” Cassandra sighed, “It’s about these four children in England. Their names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy and they go into this wardrobe and come out the other end in this new land. There, they are kings and queens and have adventures. And like them, I feel like I could go back and back and back in my closet and end up somewhere wonderful.”

“What could be more wonderful than this?” Alisha took only a short swig from her beer. She never liked beer, but it seemed wrong to turn down a beer while sitting on that porch swing. It just felt right.

Peace.

“Excuse me, miss,” A deep male voice said suddenly.

Both Alisha and Cassandra were startled by the intrusion. Alisha even emitted a short “yelp!”

The man was dressed in a white tuxedo. He was very dignified and had a tray that he was holding out in his left hand. On it seemed to be some kind of a letter. “This is for you, miss.”

Cassandra didn’t know what to say. Slowly, she reached over and took the envelope off the tray. The envelope was gold. The dignified man dropped the tray to his side, performed a cordial bow and walked away down the beach.

Cassandra turned to Alisha stunned.

Alisha looked back at her stunned.

They were both stunned. Who knew they were there? Who knew their address? And who would go to all the trouble to send a polite man in a white tuxedo to deliver a message?

Alisha was the first to break the moment of confusion. “Open it.”

The gold envelope tore easily enough and inside it was, “An invitation,” Cassandra said. “It’s for a party or something.”

Alisha was immediately excited. “Really? When?”

Cassandra read a little more, “Tomorrow night. Too bad…”

“What do you mean too bad?”

“Well, there is no way we can go,” Cassandra said. She struggled to come up with an excuse. There had to be a good excuse that would convince Alisha and would keep her safely in her house. Cassandra just was not ready for actual company and people, but she couldn’t say that. This was the best excuse she could come up with, “We just got here.”

Alisha frowned. She put her beer on the porch floor and stood up. “You’re just being silly. I’m going to get one of my dresses dry-cleaned. I think I will wear the black one. no wait, I’ll wear the blue one.”

“Alisha, we aren’t going.” Cassandra stated again.

“What?”

“There’s no way on God’s green earth you can get me in that party.”

On the Cliffs

“May I take your coats?” the man in the white tuxedo asked. It was the same man and maybe the same tuxedo. He was standing behind a desk with a series of coat racks behind him. Alisha and Cassandra handed their coats over. The man placed them carefully on one of the racks. He then walked around the counter and to one of the tables. He then picked up a tray and began handing out hors d’ouvres to the guests.

It was a beautiful ballroom. It was a beautiful house; or better yet, it was a beautiful mansion. There were instructions in the card on how to find the location, but really they didn’t need them. It was hard to miss the mansion of Mr. Monty, and in a way, it felt like he wanted to make sure of that fact.

Cassandra and Alisha slowly walked in. They was in a real party, not at all like the parties back at the brothel. This was filled with honest-to-god actual, real people. They both suddenly felt ill-equipped.

“Can you two keep a secret?” a voice with a strong, southern accent said behind them. Cassandra and Alisha turned back to look at the source of the interruption. He looked like a remnant of a past long forgotten. A reminder of Gone With The Wind and Tara. He had a mustache, a white suit, a cane (which he rested on; they would learn later it was from a war wound, but what war he would not say) and a brimmed hat.

“It matters what the secret is,” Cassandra said, suspicious already.

“A wise answer,” the stranger said with a crooked smile. “Well, I like to take a risk from time to time, so I will tell it to you anyway. Now don’t you dare tell anyone else here, but you are the prettiest two young things on this island.”

Cassandra was not too keen on being called a “thing”, but it was supposed to be a compliment, and she was new to the island (Why stir up trouble with someone who is trying to be nice?) so she just fake smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Alisha giggled her reply.

Cassandra turned to Alisha stunned. A giggle? She sounded like a damn 13-year old. Alisha was blushing bright red too. Cassandra looked away, a little embarrassed, by her friend.

“So what are your names?”

“Maybe you should tell us yours first,” Cassandra replied. “And then we’ll tell you ours.”

Alisha again giggled.

“I’m The Duke.” The man replied with a quick bow.

“Duke?” Cassandra was surprised. Strange name, and she had heard some strange made-up ones in her previous life in Amsterdam.

“No actually, ‘The Duke,’” he turned to Alisha, “You can call me anything you want though.”

Alisha giggled again.

Cassandra sighed, “My name is Cassandra and the giggle monster is Alisha.”

“Alisha?” The Duke took her hand and kissed it. “What a beautiful name.”

Alisha giggled for a fourth time.

“Alisha was my mother’s name,” The Duke said. He had not let go of her hand yet.

Alisha again giggled.

Cassandra raised her right eyebrow, “Really?”

The Duke turned to her, “No, not really, but I thought it would sound nice to say.”

Alisha giggled some more and then hiccuped. She covered her mouth and continued her giggling.

Cassandra sighed. “I’m going to go get a drink. I’ll speak to the both of you later.”

Duke did a quick bow and turned his attention back to Alisha. “You have incredible hands.”

Cassandra was standing on the cliff outside the back of the mansion. It was an amazing view. The cliff fell directly to the waves at least 30 feet below. Cassandra sat down and dangled her feet over the edge as she drank her fine wine. She could hear the party going on behind her. It was so surreal to be there and it was startlingly how easy it was to leave her past life. She almost felt guilty how easy it was to forget that time as a dream. She was just in Amsterdam a week ago, and now it felt like years, absolute years. But wasn’t that how she wanted it to feel?

Freedom is an odd realization. It comes rarely in one’s life. And, finally, when you realize you don’t have to do what you didn’t like doing, well, the implication is stunning and has the effect of relaxing one’s mind. No stress. No worries. Cassandra was free. She could dangle her feet over the side of this cliff for as long as she wanted. An hour? A day? A week? No matter… Nothing mattered now and that was freedom.

There were footsteps behind her.

She turned.

It was the servant (yes, the same one) with a tray… And on the tray was a small gold phone. “Excuse me.”

“Yes,” Cassandra replied.

“Mr. Monty would like to speak with you, madam.” He leaned the tray down to her. She took the phone (It was already on) and placed it to her ear.

“You don’t like my party?” the voice said on the other end. He had a rough deep voice with a slight edge to it. There was power in that voice, or at least, an attempt at power.

“I just wanted to get a breath of fresh air,” Cassandra said. “Who is this?”

“This is Mr. Monty,” the voice of power replied. “This is my party. And I asked don’t you like my party?”

Cassandra was not a fan of rudeness and would rarely let it slip without her own responded sarcasm. “It’s nice enough,” she replied, “but it’s hard to judge it positively when even the host won’t come downstairs.”

“Touché,” the voice said. Did he sound impressed? He seemed to like confrontation. “I can’t come down, because of the diseases.”

“Diseases?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Mr. Monty said. “But I do want to have a brief conversation with you, a private one.”

Cassandra stood up. “What about?”

“About your past.”

Cassandra felt instantly uncomfortable. She moved the phone away from her ear and took a deep breath. She looked back at the phone and now it didn’t look gold anymore. The gold in the moonlight seemed now more like a muddy dirt. She wrapped her free arm around herself. A partial hug. She took another deep breath and returned to the call. “I’m listening,” is all Cassandra could think to reply.

“I own this island, Madam Cassandra. The town won’t admit it with their mayors and anti-mayors and that damn liberal Reverend, but this is mine. I own the banks, the movie theater, the beaches. Heck, I would own the water if it were possible… I don’t, but I do own the land under the water to about 10 miles out.”

“I own my house,” Cassandra replied.

“No, you have a mortgage on the house, and insurance, and they are both under my bank. Where do you think your taxes go? To the town? The government? Really?”

Cassandra didn’t have a response to that. “So what do you want?”

“Well, I did a complete background check on you. (Cassandra walked away in the fear the servant would hear her; however, he didn’t understand the motion and stayed behind her. It was almost like a strange game of follow the leader. Her, on the phone with one hand covering the ear, bent over; him, with tray extended prepared for her to place the phone back when she was done). Is my butler bothering you? I’ll take care of that.”

Cassandra heard a buzzing noise on the phone. She looked back and the servant was already almost back to the house. “Fast man.”

“He’s very good at his job. I do a complete background check on everyone that moves to my island, don’t take it personally. Few are more fun than yours, I must admit. The second you started showing interest in the ‘Peace Cottage’ I began watching you… I just wanted you to know that…”

Cassandra could feel it coming. This was going to be messy. The cliff was right there. It was drawing her. Maybe an end was all she could hope for? She had these two days. She had the feeling of escape and freedom. There was no way now anything on her “Like” list could outdo that point on the “Hate” list of having this second start taken away. She could be gone in a second, if she wanted to. All she would have to do is…

“Well, gee, welcome to Royal Carlton Island,” The booming voice said triumphantly.

Cassandra stopped her dark thoughts. “What?”

“You have to be one of the most interesting characters I have ever seen come on to this island. I thought the mayor’s family was darn interesting enough, but you push the limit. Wow. This is going to be so thrilling to watch.”

“Watch?”

“On my monitors. I have little cameras all around the island. In a way, you’re all my show. Are you planning to start up the business here?”

“Business? Oh! No, no, no more business. No.”

“Too bad, that would have caused some intrigue. I would’ve backed it, if you asked.”

Cassandra faced the cliff edge. The wind bit her face. She was chilly and wished she brought her coat with her. “I’m here to retire and enjoy the rest of my life. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anyone else about my past.”

There was some disappointment in his voice even though he tried to hide it. “That’s fine. Do you want your coat?”

“No.”

“Well, you look chilly.”

Cassandra looked around. There was no one around. How did he do that? He knew the question in her mind even though she didn’t say it aloud. He answered it quickly. “Look down.”

Cassandra did. There was a small lens sticking up out of the ground up at her.

“Nice camera, isn’t it?”

Cassandra didn’t know what to say. She had some biting sarcasm (her natural defense) but he did just promise to keep her past a secret and he did own her mortgage. Better play cool and friendly. “And you won’t tell anyone?”

“No, no, actually it might be more interesting watching you without anyone knowing.”

Cassandra didn’t know what he meant and also didn’t want to know. She still asked though. “How so?”

“Well, you will have this great dark secret always haunting you. Let’s think of an example. Oh, yes, love! Consider this, Madam Cassandra. Your dating life will be so tragic. Oh, you might fall in love, but the second you tell a man about your past, it will end. Heck, you know that! Or let’s say you do happen to tell someone and they spread it around. What a disaster! Pure glitz. Better than television. No, I’d rather sit on this, come to think of it, and see how you deal with it.”

Cassandra wanted to call him a series of names, but in the back of her mind, she knew he was right. It was going to happen, someday. She could never hope for true happiness or love. Through clenched teeth, she asked, “Is there anything else you want?”

“No, no,” Mr. Monty said casually, “Welcome to Royal Carlton Island. Yippee, you’re gonna be fun to watch.”

“Thanks,” Cassandra said, and then casually tossed the phone over the side of the cliff. She didn’t bother to watch it hit the waves.

She turned and stormed back to the house. She was getting her coat and she was going home. She was done, done with all of these islanders. Fuck them! The party was in full swing. She wasn’t going to worry about Alisha. It was only two blocks back to the house and she’d find her own way back. At that moment, all she wanted to do was go home and forget the entire conversation.

In the lawn in front of her was a man staring up at the clouds. Maybe in her anger she didn’t notice him, or maybe she wanted to hurt someone. Looking back she really couldn’t say. But no matter which one it was, she bumped into him good and hard as she walked toward the door.

He stumbled back onto the ground. “Oppf! Just a second…”

She didn’t reply. She went into the house, got her coat and was gone…

In the Gazebo

Cassandra stood up and yawned. She reached over lazily and grabbed her University of Minnesota sweatshirt. She threw it on over her t-shirt, yawned once more, scratched her leg and headed downstairs. She walked to her kitchen and opened the refrigerator. After pouring herself a glass of orange juice, she yawned once more.

Alisha must have gotten in late. She was sleeping in her nice dress on the couch. She didn’t even make it up the stairs to her bed.

Cassandra sipped a little juice off the top of the cup. A few drops of orange juice fell on her flannel pajama bottoms. She looked down at the drops annoyed, but didn’t bother to clean them off. She brushed her hand through her hair, stretched her arms, picked up the glass and slowly walked towards the front door.

On the edge of the porch was the Sunday Morning newspaper neatly wrapped in plastic with a rubber band. Cassandra picked it up, and put it under her arm. She walked off her porch and lazily strolled to her gazebo and…

“Hi there.”

Cassandra stopped. “What are you doing here?”

He was a stranger. A stranger was in her gazebo. And he was reading a book! He had the gall to read a book in her gazebo! It was an appalling sight to her, like he had permanently tarnished her gazebo with paint. This was her gazebo. “It’s such a beautiful Sunday morning, I thought I would read outside.” He sipped his coffee mug and placed back on the seat of her gazebo. In her mind, she saw it leaving a mug stain that could never be removed. The king of all mug stains.

“This is my gazebo,” she said. She was so stunned and tired that she had a hard time putting anything together.

This stranger smiled and nodded. “Yes, it’s a great gazebo. I especially like the view in the back of the beach.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Cassandra sighed. “This is my gazebo.”

The stranger smiled and took another sip of his coffee. He had a look on his face of playfulness… She had a look that was growing into anger. “Is there something wrong?” he asked.

“Listen, I’m sure you are a nice guy.”

“I kind of have to be, but yes,” he interjected. “If I’m not, it really hurts my business.”

She didn’t have time to ask about his business or life and frankly she didn’t care. “Yes, whatever, but this is my gazebo and I’ve dreamed of this moment for years.”

“What moment?”

She looked cross. “This moment- Sunday mornings reading my newspaper in my gazebo watching the beach. This. This! This moment and you just ruined it.”

“I ruined it? How?”

“You’re here.”

“So?”

“But you’re not supposed to be here.”

“Says who?”

“Me.”

The stranger looked at the newspaper under her arm and laughed. This only made Cassandra more upset. “What are you laughing at?”

“Have you looked at the Royal Carlton Newspaper yet?” He pointed with his thumb at the object still under her arm.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

He just waved his hand towards it. “Look at it.”

She sighed, placed her glass on the edge of the gazebo and unfolded her paper. All it said on every page was:

NO NEWS TO REPORT.

She looked up at the stranger as if he did that to her. “What is this?”

He laughed harder. “The writer likes to go out drinking on Saturday night… Well, actually all Friday and Saturday. It’s pretty much a paper like that on Sundays and major holidays. Sometimes even election days too.”

“What do you mean writer?”

“The paper only has one writer. Well, actually two but the other one only reviews restaurants. Of course, he also owns a restaurant in town, so he can be a little bias.” He turned back to his book as if everything was perfectly normal.

Cassandra went through the paper a second time with the hope that the words would magically change. They, of course, didn’t.

He looked up from his book and smirked. “Nice pajamas,” the stranger said.

She looked down at her pajama bottoms and back up at him. She was not enjoying this as much as he was. “What do I need to say to get you to disappear right now?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Abracadabra?”

Cassandra was not a morning person. She liked mornings quiet, peaceful and not playful. “Listen could you please leave?”

“Give me a minute. Two pages left in the chapter. And I only have a few minutes before I have to get ready for work anyway. Just a minute.” He turned back to his book, and at that moment, it was like she was not even there anymore in his mind. He had somehow turned off her existence. Poof!

She walked into the gazebo and sat across from him. She angrily sipped her orange juice. She angrily crossed her legs. She angrily uncrossed her legs. She then angrily released a sigh that came out like this: “Uhhhhuhhhh!”

He didn’t react. He was fully engrossed in the book he was reading. She leaned forward. He was reading D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.“Excuse me…” She began.

He shushed her just like she did to Alisha a few days earlier, and then said quickly, “I’m getting to a good part. Just a second.” This man, this man in the old jeans and dirty, gray sweatshirt, was stealing the joy of her gazebo right out from under her. She wanted to read good parts in books out here, not watch another person beat her to it. She had a strong desire to destroy the gazebo and have another one rebuilt in its place.

He let out a sigh, closed the book and looked up. “I find it best to read classics slow. Don’t rush them. That’s why they are best for mornings like this. Like a ghost from the past telling you, I’ve been here before you. Of course, technically, I’m not supposed to believe in ghosts. Also, it could be argued I shouldn’t be reading this particular book before work, but I like to support forgiveness, so I can forgive myself. I bet those pajamas are really comfortable.”

She looked down at her bottoms and back at him. She couldn’t take his playfulness anymore. “I want you to leave.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you here anymore.”

“So?”

“Well, it’s my gazebo.”

“I know, you said that.”

“I should be able to decide who can sit in it or not.”

“If you think that would be the best way to run a gazebo, it’s your call.”

“I don’t need you telling me how to run my gazebo.”

“Well, you might want to talk to me about it. I do have experience with this gazebo.”

“What?”

“I sit here every Sunday morning, before I have to go to work.”

She was stunned. This man was sitting in her gazebo while she was living in Amsterdam. Unheard of. Disgusting. She could barely speak. All she could get out through her complete annoyance was a very distorted, “Every?”

He pointed to a small house down on the other side of the street. “Yes. I live in that house over there. I really don’t have a view from my house of the beach. Well, not like this view and… Are you okay? You’re turning blue.”

She didn’t hear a single word he just said, “Every? Really every Sunday morning?”

“For about a year now, yes.”

“In my gazebo?” She closed her eyes. This was too much for her to take.

“You’re more beautiful than I expected you to be,” the man said quickly.

She opened her eyes. “What?”

He was smiling. “Well, it’s rare someone our age has a gazebo built for their house. I expected you to be in your 70’s, and doing crochets out here while the sunsets in the background… and yet, you are young and beautiful.” He paused. “University of Minnesota, eh?”

She looked down at her sweatshirt and back at him. He talked fast, too fast for an early Sunday morning. This was all wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! “Ok, I’m trying to be nice here.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she said slowly.

“I couldn’t tell that. I mean, I’m looking at your face and I see anger, resentment and… is that scorn? Yes, it’s scorn… Oh, now I see rage. That’s a new one. You have a very expressive face. Really, open, like a book.”

“Listen, sir.”

“By the way you have a nice arm on you.”

She looked down at her arm and back at him. “What?”

“The phone last night,” He sighed. “I saw you chuck it over the cliff last night. You must have been talking to Mr. Monty. He has a gift for upsetting people. He likes to riles us up and then watch the spectacles on his little cameras. They are in most public locations and stores. You get used to him. He tries with me every few months or so. Oh, don’t worry; you are safe here. He can’t put cameras in people’s homes no matter how much he wants to. He is pretty much stuck to his theater, grocery store and home. Part of the reason he has such luxurious parties once a month… Oh, well… the food is always good at his parties, so I’m there.”

“He is missing this show?”

“Is this a show? But, yes. Yet, he probably didn’t miss you bumping into me last night. I’m sure he got a laugh out of that. ”

“Oh.” Suddenly she felt guilty she didn’t apologize then. But she had other things on her mind and she was upset. Those excuses still didn’t take away the guilt. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, I was pretending to watch the stars anyway. I was actually watching you. You intrigued me. We don’t often get new people on our little island.”

He got up from the gazebo and walked over to her. He held out his hand, she slowly took it. “Let’s do this right. I’ll give you my full name.” They shook hands. “Jonathan Davis.”

“Mr. Davis…”

He interrupted. “Reverend Davis actually. But Jonathan is more than enough. Everyone calls me that.”

He was a reverend. This? This man was a man of God? He looked like a relaxed graduate student and not like a holy man at all.

“And your name?” he asked slowly.

“Cassandra.”

“A beautiful name,” Jonathan said. “A lot of history in a name like that. If you ever sense an attack by Spartans or a natural disaster, you tell me, okay? I’ll believe you.”

“Sure,” she said confused.

He stuffed his book under his arm. “Well, I’ve got to go, first service in an hour and I need to look more respectable than this. When I get up the courage someday I might ask you out.” He smiled and jumped off the gazebo porch. He started walking away speedily. He turned back to her. “See you next Sunday!” He tapped his book against his arm, quickly strolled up to his little house in the distance and was gone from her sight.

Cassandra slowly sat down on the gazebo porch again. She looked back at the ocean and back in the direction that Jonathan walked off into. Unbelievable! She laid her empty newspaper on the seat next to her and laid down. And in her gazebo! She turned herself to face the ocean and she watched it through the cracks in the wood of the gazebo.

“This is not a retirement,” Cassandra said quietly to herself.

Cultivating the Garden

“I don’t think he’s a real Duke anyway. Someone told me he actually works at the grocery store. Supposedly he’s not even Southern. But what a dancer! You should have seen us swing dance!” Alisha got up of off her knees, brushed the dirt off her pants and looked with a hint of scorn at Cassandra. Cassandra pretended not to notice as she continued to dig in the dirt. After waiting a few seconds for Cassandra to say something, Alisha spoke up, “Are you sure you are doing this right?”

Cassandra sighed and looked up at Alisha. “No, I don’t.”

Alisha sighed even louder than Cassandra. “So, we could be wasting our time?”

“This is not a waste of time.”

“You don’t know that.”

Cassandra decided not to answer that. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and she was working in her garden. Her garden! She was planting her plants. She would watch them grow every year and she would know she did that.

Alisha didn’t notice Cassandra’s lack of interest in her opinion and continued venting her frustration. “Look at these packages. Are you sure they are even going to look good next to each other? Some are plants. I think this one is a bush. And is this one a tree? They might not get along environmentally or something.”

Cassandra didn’t want to explain to Alisha how she choose the plants she did. She knew deep down, that it would only drive Alisha away and she would never be able to get her to help again on it. Cassandra’s method for choosing her garden was not scientific. It was not even logically or naturalistically sound.

Cassandra simply closed her eyes, held out her hand and grabbed whatever felt right.

These eight seed packets felt right. She couldn’t explain why and wouldn’t even attempt to, but there was more to these seedlings than the look or the design. She was saying something; she just wasn’t sure what. But when she held those packets of seeds in her hands together, she felt like she was holding her life. Her new life was right there in her hand, and if she could get them to grow, oh, the wonders that would come.

She sat up, took off her Cubs baseball cap and brushed her hand through her hair. She was a little sweaty. Good.

Alisha was still looking down at her. She’s expecting some kind of an answer, Cassandra thought. She slowly brushed her hands together and took the moment to come up with a thought. The extra second paid off. “Think of it as a favor for the person that saved you,” Cassandra said. It was the first time Cassandra had pulled that card on Alisha and it worked like a charm.

Alisha nodded her head. She immediately got back on the ground and began digging. Even though she was working hard, Cassandra did make sure to always keep an eye on her. These seeds were too important for Cassandra to have them ruined.

She picked up her shovel again and began digging into the ground. And as she dug, she pictured herself a life. She saw herself old, married with grandchildren- a true matriarch of a family. She saw herself going to graduate school. She saw herself with children running and swimming and… She shook her head. She had to watch those kinds of thoughts. Waste of time and energy. There was no way. She was an ex-prostitute. She didn’t deserve that kind of happiness or security and she was the first that would argue that. She should just be thankful that she found a way out of Amsterdam and could retire, but she would have a nice garden and…

CLINK.

Cassandra stopped in her thoughts. What did she just hit? Alisha looked up at her. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Cassandra said confused. “I just hit something with my shovel.” Cassandra swung her shovel down again.

CLINK.

Alisha stood up and walked over to where Cassandra was working. “I don’t see anything.”

“Go get the bigger shovel, Alisha.”

Cassandra started brushing the dirt off the object in front of her. It was big. Felt sturdy. Was it a leather covering? Whatever it was, it was old and had been firmly in that ground for a long time. She started to dig around it to get an idea of its size. It was much bigger than the hole she was working on.

“Where should I start?” Alisha asked upon her return.

“Start near the hole I began and move out. But be careful.”And she was. It was an hour later before they had an idea of the dimension. It was 4×6 feet  and about four deep. “Is it a casket?” Alisha asked.

“I don’t think so,” Cassandra said. She rubbed her hand across it. “It feels more like a chest than a casket.”

“What should we do?”

“We lift it up.” That was much easier to say than actually perform. It was a very solid chest and the only things that didn’t seem to survive in the ground were the handles. So they had the struggle of trying to get their fingers under it and then lift. If anyone had been near they would have seen an odd sight that day. Those two lost souls lifting a large chest out of a fresh garden. But not a single soul was on the beach and not a single soul was on the streets.

It was heavy and because of the size, very hard to carry. “You go up the porch step first,” Cassandra moaned under the weight.

“You’re in front,” Alisha said.

“Yes, ugh!, but you can take the weight better than I can.”

“I don’t think so, I mean… Umpf!” As she argued Cassandra took the opportunity to turn the tables.

Up the three steps. Up to the screen door. Cassandra held it open with her feet.

They were inside.

“Where?”

“The living room.”

They slowly placed it down in front of the couch. They both then took the opportunity to collapse back on the couch, and it took a minute for them to catch their breath.

Alisha was the first to speak. “How do we open it?”

Cassandra didn’t think of that. It looked sealed, very strongly sealed.

That took another hour. From butter knives, to screwdrivers, to other keys, to even a fork; they had no luck opening the case. After thirty minutes, Cassandra was ready for an answer and said quite proudly, “Alisha, I have some power tools in the basement.”

It was the power drill that did it. It was a matter of digging into the hinges on the back of the case. Alisha was so happy with herself for getting it open that she turned to put the drill away in the basement before looking in… But Cassandra saw in… She tried to say Alisha’s name, but she couldn’t get it out. All she could do was mouth it… Soon air returned… She was getting louder. “Alisha… Alisha!… ALISHA!… ALISHA!!!”

Alisha came running back up the stairs and there was Cassandra. She was holding a handful of gold coins and wearing a crown covered with rubies. “It’s filled with jewels and gold! Alisha, it’s a real treasure chest! An actual, real one!”

Alisha smiled and then fainted.

“We have to swear,” Cassandra said. She was panting from exhaustion and excitement.

“What?” Alisha had a hard time concentrating on anything at this point. This was very overwhelming. She was holding a cold wet cloth to her forehead with one hand as the other reached into the chest to see what new treasure she could pull out.

“If we’re going to pull off keeping the treasure a secret we’ve got to swear to not tell anyone ever.”

“What?” Alisha was stunned. “Never tell anyone?” She sat in a chair to rest.

“Well, at least no one on this island. We might have a problem claiming it. No, wait, we can’t tell anyone even off the island. A story like this would spread fast.” Cassandra started pacing back and forth in the kitchen. The crown on her forehead began to dip to the left. She straightened it and kept pacing.

“Do we keep it. I mean, you can’t go into a store with a crown. We’ll need to exchange them for something.”

“That’s not a problem,” Cassandra replied. She began to bite one of her fingernails. She hadn’t done that since she was a child. “I know someone at a Swiss bank that can keep something like this quiet. They’ll put it in a vault and make exchanges when we need them.”

“Won’t he tell?”

“He didn’t talk about the other funds I put in his bank, I don’t know why he would start with this. This will be easy, trust me on this.”

The treasure was so beautiful to Alisha. It didn’t seem fair to hide it from her view. She grabbed another handful of pearl necklaces and put them around her neck. She didn’t need the wet cloth anymore and dropped it to the ground. She had better things for her hands to hold. “I don’t know if I would like to have it hidden forever from view.”

Cassandra sat across from her. “How about this? I’ll make sure he gives us two keys, one for each. And whenever you and I want, we can go to the vault in the bank and take a look at it. We’ll use the keys to represent who we are while we’re there and we can only go together. That way we can keep our connection to it a secret, just in case this does get out and it is illegal.”

“Illegal?”

“Well, it might belong to a government or maybe a museum or something. Or maybe even royalty.” Strangely, that concept made Cassandra a little giddy. She patted the crown on her head.

Alisha sighed. “And we can’t tell anyone?”

Cassandra turned back to Alisha. She tried to look stern, which was not easy at the moment. “No one.”

“What if we get married?”

Cassandra looked at Alisha shocked. She quickly pulled out a chair near her and sat down. She made sure to make eye contact. “Alisha, dear, do you really think either of us is capable of a fairy tale life? Get married? Have kids? Alisha, it’s a non-issue.”

Alisha didn’t seem to realize it before. She turned her face away from Cassandra, but Cassandra was not about to let her cry. She reached out and touched Alisha’s chin. “Alisha, that reality is beyond us. I desire it too. I want to be normal and have a normal, happy life as much as the next person. But the chance of it happening… Well, it would be like a wish being granted by a wizard…” She reached into the chest and handed a hand full of gold to Alisha. “But what we have here is a chance to make any of our other dreams true. Alisha, we are both rich.”

Alisha played with the gold in her hand and slowly started laughing… laughing harder… laughing until she was almost out of breath.

Cassandra joined in.

They couldn’t stop laughing. They tried but every time they looked at each other covered in jewels and pearl necklaces, they couldn’t hold back the joy. It felt like a blessing. A second chance, a new life for them was being blessed in jewels and gold and they couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

Alisha reached in and threw a handful of coins up into the air. They showered down on her. There was no pain when they hit her. No pain at all. She began dancing in the living room.

Cassandra held one of the doubloons up to the kitchen light… So pure… So beautiful… The shine of the gold almost hurt her eyes like gazing too long into a personal sunrise.

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