THE PHOTO TRAVELER

By Arthur Gonzalez All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

When I get back to my room and check my cell, I can’t believe it’s almost midnight. I pull off my shirt and jeans and fall on the bed. I can’t stop myself from flashing back to the scene in the restaurant and to Bud talking this morning about dying. About how worn out and frail he had seemed the past couple of weeks. Why hadn’t I foreseen what was going to happen? Maybe I should’ve done more to follow up on his health when he came down with that cold. I mean, it never crossed my mind to pay any attention to it. One thing’s for sure, that’s going to change with Estelle.

I close my eyes and lie back on the bed, but my mind keeps spinning. How could what started out as such an amazing night turn into such a tragedy? Bud was the first real person in my life, besides Estelle, whom I felt I could trust and actually talk to. Even though I loved Leyla so much, it was different with her because I was so young when she died.

Bud’s image—his warm, loving lemon-colored eyes and his smile—fill my mind. Now that Estelle’s asleep, I can stop fighting to hold everything in. I can let go. The tears flow fast and freely.

Eventually I sit up and dry my eyes. I need to talk to someone. I can’t stand the thought of being alone. I reach for my phone and call the one person I feel I can talk to. Even though I was weary at first, I feel an odd sense of trust with her. And if anyone knows about loss, it’d be her. She did lose her entire family in the fire.

She picks up after just two rings. “Oh my God! Like it’s only been two days!” Yogi drawls in a stereotypical Valley Girl voice, followed by a cackle. “I’m a heartbreaker, just warning you.”

My voice is hoarse. “Hey… can you talk?”

She’s silent for a moment, so I blurt it out. “My grandfather died today. On my birthday. We were out having dinner for my birthday and he just... he just died. I’m sorry to be laying this on you. I just needed someone to talk to.”

“Gavin… I am so sorry! I was just messing around with you just now when I picked up.”

“I know... I didn’t want to bother you, but I don’t know who else... I mean, you’re the only other person I know who’s like me... like us…”

“Do me a favor? Go log onto the Internet,” she says.

“Why?”

“Trust me, just do it.”

“Okay...”

I wake up my laptop and open my browser. “I’m there.”

I can hear her typing fiercely on her end. “Okay. Go to www.dreamescapes.com. Tell me when you’re there.”

“I’m there. But what is it?”

“You see the photo of the waterfall at the bottom? On the left side?”

“Yeah... So?”

“So-o-o... Meet me there in 5 minutes. Deal? You sound like you need a friend. And I know just the gal.”

I smile—I think for the first time since I heard the waitress calling for help after Bud collapsed. “Okay. Thanks, Yogi. A lot.”

I end the call and study the image of the breathtaking curtain of foaming water surrounded by colorful vines and flowering trees. The caption under the thumbnail reads “Costa Rican Bliss—a True Getaway.”

I can already feel some of the stress draining from my body. I grab a pair of red shorts and a black tank top, print a copy of the image, and close my eyes before saying the chant that’ll take me away.

I’m at the foot of the thunderous waterfall surrounded by sweet, fruity scents from the flowers and plants all around me. The cheerful songs of the tropical birds soaring and hovering about me fill my ears.

“Hey!”

I turn around. Yogi scampers toward me. “Sorry I’m late! I couldn’t decide which top matched better with the skirt.”

I can’t help laughing. She’s wearing a Hawaiian grass skirt and a metallic silver bikini top. This time her spikes are combed over and plastered down the sides of her head, with a wide bleached blond streak at the front. I really admire her confidence and free spirit.

“Nice skirt,” I tease.

“Hey, we are in paradise, my friend!” She breaks into a quick little Hawaiian dance shimmy. “Here we wear and do as we please.”

She comes over and puts her hand on my arm. She stops grinning and looks up at me seriously. “I don’t want to be the Debbie-downer, but I do want to tell you I’m really sorry.” She gives me a hug. “Okay, enough soap opera talk.” She leads me over to a sun-dappled boulder nearby. “Tell me what happened.”
I tell her the entire story, and she listens like the good friend I think she’ll become—or maybe already is. She only makes few comments in between in an attempt for comedic relief.

When my words have run dry, I take a deep breath and glance around. “Where’d you find this place anyways?”

“It’s my secret getaway. I found the website like 4 years ago, and now whenever I need some time to just reflect or have some peace and quiet, I travel to whatever image seems like the right one at the time. But this one’s my favorite.” She grins, adjusts her top and parts the grass skirt from her thighs. “You should be, like, over-the-top thrilled that I decided to let you know about it.”

“I am,” I agree. “It’s actually amazing. I’ve never seen a waterfall or a real toucan before.”

“Good… I’m glad.” She pouts and makes a motor noise with her lips, then shoots me a glance.

“Look…” She sighs. “I’ve never shared this with anyone, but... I think I need to let myself trust you, too.

“My story’s kind of similar to yours. Not exactly, but there are some common themes. My dad started taking me traveling when I was a little girl. That was our life. My mom would stay home, since she wasn’t a photo traveler, and my dad and I would go on these awesome adventures. But since we were always short on money, he would take us through periods of history where he would steal liquor or drugs—not to use himself, but to sell them. Until he was arrested for possession and selling moonshine and cocaine. I was only 5 when he went to jail.” She takes a deep breath, then continues, “One day my mom and I went to go visit him in prison. Right before we went in, I found a magazine in a trash bin and tore out a photo. It was from one of those women’s magazines. The ones that have all those arts and crafts crap on the cover. I don’t remember much, because I was so young, but I do remember that the picture I tore out was of some forest. I didn’t tell my mom what I was planning, but when they allowed me to see him I slipped him the photo, and then I hugged him as hard as I could and told him to run away. Two days later, we were notified he had mysteriously escaped jail. No one knew how and he was never found. They questioned my mom but obviously had nothing to prove she had anything to do with it. When we got home I admitted to her what I had done and how I knew Daddy escaped through the photo I gave him. We tried finding the magazine next day, but there was no sign of it anywhere. I was just a little girl. I couldn’t even understand the idea of my dad living in jail. I thought he would die there. We’ve never seen him since…” She pauses again. “So… it’s not the same, but I know what it’s like to lose someone you care for at a really young age.”

“Have you visited him in any photos?”

She shakes her head. “I wish. My mom was the one who dabbled in whatever my dad brought home. And by dabble, I mean spending days getting drunk and stoned. When she found out that he had disappeared, she got wasted and went bat-shit crazy. She burned every photo of him. Every one! Can you believe that? Took him away from me forever. Now all I have are the pictures in my memory, and I’m terrified I’ll forget his face one day. So you can imagine that my relationship with her isn’t exactly peachy.”

“I’m sorry. I’d be furious too.”

“Yeah, but what’s done is done.” she sing-songs. “So that’s it. But I’m gonna find him one day. I swear it.”

I don’t know what else to say, so I get up and go over to the water. “You think it’s cold?” I grin.

She jumps up and over to me. “I don’t know. But let me know when you find out!” With that she pushes me into the water, laughing obnoxiously.

I sink and surface and shout, “Motherf—!” I shake my hair out of my eyes and laugh. “It’s amazing!”

She steps back from the edge, drops her grass skirt on a chubby root from a nearby tree and takes a running leap into the water screaming, “Yogi ball!”

We start splashing and dunking each other, and before long the peaceful, enchanting, soothing water washes away my grief. A small pink dolphin swims over to us. I’m startled and amazed by the rare sighting and reach out to it. The dolphin bows its head, allowing me to touch it. It makes a whistling noise before splashing around with its beak wide open, smiling. And although I know this is all just a temporary distraction, I suddenly feel that everything is going to be just fine.

Even though at the back of my mind, the question lingers still… why haven’t Naima and Axel intercepted my last travels? What exactly are they up to?

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