My thoughts were interrupted by Mark. “What’s so special about the picture and why did you want us to see it here?” He asked.
“See for yourself,” Shawn said, digging around in his knapsack. Shuffling clothes and toiletries around, he finally extracted a big yellow manila envelope. Pulling the tabs open, he carefully removed an object covered in bubble wrap. He gently peeled the wrapping away to reveal a plastic Ziploc baggie with a faded worn picture inside.
“I put it in a baggie a few years ago after I discovered that my constant handling was ruining it. I knew it was important to preserve it the best I could,” he said as he gingerly handed the picture over to Mark.
Mark reached out to take the picture. Curiously, I looked over his shoulder to see what would make him treat it like it was some kind of crown jewel. I gasped when I saw the picture.
It appeared to have been taken exactly where we were standing, with the same Boardwalk in the background. There were four couples standing side by side. They all looked relatively happy and the women were obviously very pregnant, judging by the size of their bellies. At their feet were four little boys that appeared to be about one year old. They looked so care-free, digging in the sand with brightly colored shovels.
“Why are you showing us this now when…?” Mark said in a voice laced with anger.
I could relate to his feelings. We had spent the entire week trying to find something that linked us together and Shawn had this picture the entire time.
“Look, don’t be mad,” Shawn said, interrupting Mark’s tirade before he could build steam. “I wanted to make sure you guys felt the same pull to this place as Sam and I. Sam wanted me to show you earlier this week, but I had to be sure that we were all really connected.”
“Shawn thinks they might be our parents,” Sam said in a quiet voice.
I swallowed an unexpected lump in my throat as I grabbed the picture from Mark’s hand and critically studied it. Could Sam be right? Were these our parents? They don’t look like the type of parents that would abandon their children, I thought to myself. As a matter fact, the way they rested their hands on their bellies conveyed a feeling of love for the unborn babies they carried.
“Well your right about that,” Mark said with certainty. “That’s my dad, and I recognize the picture of my mom from a picture I saw a few years back in my dad’s desk drawer. I was going to ask him for the picture, but never worked up the nerve because I know he doesn’t like to talk about her.”
I started to feel a wave of unease approach, but I quickly stifled it the best I could before it became an issue.
After a few minutes of silence, I finally asked the obvious question that they were all struggling with. “Why are we all drawn here?” I asked, spreading out my arms.
“I don’t know, but I want to know what the connection is with this place. What happened here to make all of us feel the need to be here?” Mark answered.
“Your forgetting something else that is important?” Sam said.
“Look at the couples, there’s four of them with four little boys and four babies on the way.”
Understanding dawned on me. Sam raised a valid point. Only four of us were standing here now. Which meant, somewhere out there were four more people that could be just like us. Maybe the others in the picture were normal, but it seemed highly unlikely. Some force connected all of us, and it had started here.
“I think we need to do some research and find out if anything happened on this beach eighteen or so years ago,” Shawn said.
“Like what? A UFO sighting? That’s crazy,” I said.
“All of this is crazy, but if not UFO’s, then maybe something else paranormal. Or if not any of those things, then maybe something more scientific, maybe they did nuclear testing here or something like that. I’ve read in books just how detrimental radiation poisoning can be.”
“You’re right, we need to find out everything we can about this beach, and the Boardwalk,” Mark said.
Sam and I exchanged a look. This was insane.
The guys were talking like we were involved in some kind of crazy movie.
Mark and Shawn continued to hash out ideas as we all sat on the beach; they soon became engrossed in their conversation, throwing out one crazy harebrained idea after another.
While the guys hashed out ideas that could have been an episode of X-Files, Sam and I drifted away a little, so we could share some girl talk more openly.
“This is hard to believe,” I said, still trying to wrap my brain around the ideas Shawn had thrown out. I sifted sand through my hand and watched as it cascaded through my fingers.
“I don’t know. I’m kind of relieved that we’re starting to figure things out. I would rather it be something crazy, than never knowing what happened. I hate not knowing where we’re from or where our parents are,” Sam said.
I felt a small wave of guilt for forgetting that Sam had always been by herself. Of course she would want answers. She had not been as lucky as me. I was loved and raised by two caring people.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. Even if it’s crazy, we still need to find out the truth.”
I decided to change the subject. “So, what does Shawn think about this whole situation?” I asked.
“Well, like all of us, he wants to get to the bottom of all this, but I think he feels similar to me and just wants to find out what happened to his real parents. He had it pretty tough growing up too, but puts on an ‘I don’t care’ attitude, so no one can see just how much it influenced him. His foster dad died five years ago, and Shawn hit the road. He said his foster dad was mean as a snake, and he wasn’t taking the chance of being placed in another abusive foster home.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the guys.
“Shawn and I think it’s imperative that we start aggressively searching the internet to find out exactly what happened on this beach to tie all of us together.”
“We don’t have to leave right away though if you girls still want to ride more rides,” Shawn added.
Though we were anxious to explore the internet to find out some answers, we voted, and decided it could wait a while. Sam still wanted to ride some of the rides at the Boardwalk. It was decided that we would play for a few hours and then get down to work.
I couldn’t help my nagging feeling, like we were wasting time, but they had a point, the internet would be there later.
Sam lightened the mood as she dragged us on all the rides. I tried to balk when Sam headed back toward the “Giant Dipper,” but she talked me into it.
The second time on the ride seemed to be faster than the first, and I my legs were quaking from the adrenaline rush by the time the ride screeched to a halt.
Mark laughed at my shaky legs when I tried to stand. He put his arm around me, to steady me. I took advantage of having him so close and snuggled in even closer. He didn’t seem to mind; in fact he tightened his hold on me. As we made our way toward the exit of the ride, Sam started clamoring to ride the “Double Shot.” The same ride mom and I had made fun of. It was hard to believe that just last week we had mocked the ride, and how lonely I had felt. Now, I was surrounded by people that felt like family, and that I could trust.
“No way,” I said as Sam turned, pleading eyes on me.
“I think she needs to sit this one out Sam,” Mark said.
Sam looked at my slightly green face and must have agreed with him, because they headed off by themselves to give the giant rubber band like ride a try.
Mark led me to a bench and sat down next to me. I laid my head on his shoulder and looked down at our linked fingers. Though his was much larger, our hands fit together as snuggly as a puzzle piece in the right slot. Usually, public forms of affection mortified me, but I just couldn’t seem to find a problem with this.
“I love you,” Mark said quietly.
“What?” I said, still wrapped up in what his touch was doing to me.
“I love you,” he repeated a little louder this time. “I know it may be too soon to say it, but I needed you to know how I felt.”
I sat in silence for a few moments.
“I’m not trying to rush you,” Mark said, sounding slightly panicked.
“It’s not what you said. It’s just, are you sure? I know we’ve shared the dreams all these years, but aren’t you slightly disappointed at how I turned out?” I asked, feeling my cheeks blaze up in embarrassment.
Mark laughed. “Are you kidding me? You’re everything I imagined and more. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
“Are you sure? Even with all my flaws?” I persisted, pointing to my red cheeks to prove my point.
Mark ran his hand down my cheek. “I love everything about you; your smile, your quirky sense of humor, but most of all your sensitivity. We are a match.”
Love. He had said the word that I craved to hear the most. Sure, I heard it growing up, but I always felt my adoptive parents had to say the words. I knew that not all people loved me, case in point, my own real parents obviously had not. To think that just this morning, I had been tempted to throw in the towel when I thought he might leave me, but instead he was professing his love for me.
“I love you too.”
Sam and Shawn joined us before we could say anything else. Sam’s cheeks were flushed from the excitement of the ride, or maybe it was from being with the guy she was in love with.
Sam was able to talk me into going on the “Haunted Castle,” which was just cheesy enough that all of us were laughing when we got off the ride.
We ended our day at the Boardwalk by going on “Loggers Revenge,” which was a ride where you sat in a wooden log drifting along on the water until finally you drop off a hundred foot decline splashing at the bottom, so the water completely drenches everyone on board.
I put an end to the rides after that. I felt like I had left my stomach at the top of that drop, and now that I was soaked, I was ready to leave.
We decided that it would be best to do our research on the internet at Mark’s house, since I still hadn’t told my mom about Mark.
Sam and I called our mom’s to tell them we were going to the movies, and out to eat afterwards.
I felt terrible about lying to my mom yet again. I was not the type of person who lied and the guilt was eating through me until Mark hugged me. I marveled at the warmth that spread through me at his touch. All the guilt seemed to flow away to make room for his warmth.
“Thanks,” I said, he knew instantly what I was talking about. “I figured out yesterday that we neutralize each other’s abnormalities. When I was angry at Matt yesterday, you touched my face and it was like a blanket being thrown over a fire,” he told me.
Shawn and Sam were listening to our conversation, but didn’t look surprised.
“We figured out the same thing when we first got together. It’s almost like we were put together to even the other person out. I’ve discovered that when I’m at school away from him, I am almost in physical pain. This week has been especially tough because I’ve been with you all week, but at least the dreams seem to replenish us during the night.” Sam said, looking at me.
I felt terrible. “Sam, you should have something. I wouldn’t have been so selfish with your time.”
“Get out of here. Shawn and I knew it was important that I spend time with you, once I realized that we shared all these crazy traits. Yeah, it has been tough, but in the long run, it’s more important that we figure out all this insanity. Besides, I like hanging out with you,” she said, reaching over to give me a quick hug. Her warmth wasn’t as strong as Mark’s, but it instantly began to sooth me.
We all piled into Mark’s charcoal Navigator.
“Nice car man,” Shawn said, running his hand over the smooth leather.
“Yeah it’s nice,” Mark said in an offhand manner, using a tone I didn’t recognize. “Sorry, my dad used it as bribery for missing my graduation. He didn’t even buy it; he had his assistant do it. I feel like a sellout every time I drive it, like I approve of his absentee parenting.” Mark cut off his tirade as he pulled into a spectacular driveway.
Shawn let out a long whistle. “Wow dude, your dad must be loaded. This house is unbelievable.”
It was every bit as beautiful as the houses I had admired on our drive to the beach the previous week.
“Thanks, I talked my dad into buying a house on the beach when we first moved here. I do admit, I did use the absentee father card on that one.”
The house was breathtaking; it looked like it belonged on some swanky T.V show. The side that faced the road looked like it was constructed of driftwood you would find on the beach. The front doors were made from the richest oak I had ever seen. Each held a beautiful stain glass window that resembled the crashing waves of the ocean. Conch shells and miniature tiki lamps lined the sidewalk. The driveway was made up of thousands of crushed shells that crunched pleasantly underfoot. The lawn was lush with palm trees placed strategically around to give a person the feeling that they were on their own private little island.
Mark opened the front door and we all stopped in awe. The inside was even more breathtaking than the outside. The side of the house that faced the ocean was made up of glass panels from floor to ceiling that were only broken up by a set of oversized French doors leading to the patio outside. The plush carpet in the living room swallowed up our bare feet as we made our way toward the patio.
I walked over to the patio doors and opened them up. Inhaling the fragrant ocean air, I looked at the deck in wonder. Jeez, his dad must be loaded; I thought echoing Shawn’s sentiments. The patio held one of the infinity swimming pools that I had only seen in movies. It seemed as if it was stretching out into the horizon. Lounge chairs were scattered abundantly across the patio and a wood patio table big enough for a party of twelve sat in the far corner next to the outdoor bar. The whole look was completed by a magnificent freestanding waterfall.
“Wow, is your dad a movie star or something?” Sam asked.
Mark laughed. “No, just a businessman.”
Mark came over and stood by me. “This is beautiful,” I told him.
“I know; I love it here. When we decided to move, my dad left the house hunting up to me and I fell in love with this one the moment I laid eyes on it. My dad travels so much, it feels like mine.”
“Your dad must be good at his job to be able to afford this,” I commented.
“He owns his own company, he’s a troubleshooter. He goes in and helps companies that are having problems get back on their feet. He’s earned quite a reputation and is in high demand. The only problem is that he’s always out of town, working. I used to get upset about it, but then it just became normal.”READ MORE >>