“I don’t care what you want, Ben. That is final. Leave the books here and try to enjoy the stay with us. Do know how much it cost to rent this condo?” Gary Balden towered over him.
He sat and took the demands as he always did when he was with his father.
“Ben, now apologize to Cicilia.”
“I’m sorry Cicilia,” Ben grunted.
The lady behind Gary set her jaw and rolled her eyes. “See? There he goes again.”
Ben screamed, “I’m not calling you Mom. You aren’t my mom.”
“Ben, Cicilia and I are getting married and there is nothing you can do about it. I brought you along to get to know your new step-mother. I think it’s important for the two of you to get along,” Gary explained for the fiftieth time since the plan touched down in Miami.
“Good luck with that one, Gair,” her venom was in full fang, “Let him stay in the condo the whole time and we’ll have our fun. We are here for three months.”
Gary spun to her, “Most of the fun I’m thinking of doesn’t involve him in this room.”
Ben sighed loudly. “I’ll be at the pool.”
He gathered his books and laptop into his backpack and trudged to the door. He knew he was forgotten about just as soon as he pulled the door closed behind him. He sighed again as he heard the lock click on the other side of the door.
He took the elevator down and walked to the pool. He had no interest in the bikinis that jiggled around him. Well, some maybe, but it wasn’t as important as what he was following on his computer.
He sat in a chaise and opened the laptop again. He took a glance toward the fourth floor of the Lake Villa Two that they were staying in. He looked away to the lake on the opposite end of the pool from the building to a similar building on the other bank.
“Pretty place,” he thought out loud.
“Nice computer,” said a girl walking by as she ran her fingers through his hair. The girl could not have been more than twelve and was walking next to another woman who seemed in her early thirties. Ben tried to keep his eyes off of them as they walked away. The thong bikinis were way to revealing for him.
“Chey, you shouldn’t be so mean to people,” said the older woman.
“But Mom, he was kinda cute, and he’s in Florida for crying out loud. Enjoy the sun!” She turned back to him to see if he was looking. He had turned away just in time.
A man’s voice boomed beside him. “Don’t let her get to you, dude. She’s like that with everybody. She was hilarious at breakfast.”
The guy had muscles where Ben had never seen muscle before. There wasn’t much to cover it up either. How many black Speedos have you seen with a Glock holster on one hip and a security badge on the other? He had a Navy tattoo on his right arm and as he followed the two females, he had the dark twist of a scorpion on his left shoulder blade.
“Do all eight year olds show their butts down here?” Ben retorted.
“Dude, you have no idea. In most of our Europe stops she doesn’t even wear the top,” he said, “And she is eleven by the way.”
“So she’s a rich brat?”
A squeak from the edge of the pool, “What did you just say?”
“I asked your bodyguard ‘dude’ if you were a rich brat,” Ben pulled his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose to stare at her. Hmm, kinda cute. Hate the cornrows though.
“Rich yes. Brat – No.”
Ben nodded one of those slow, “If you say so” movements.
“Are you making fun of me?” she stomped toward him.
“Chey.” Muscle dude moved to hold her back.
“Is it Chey because you’re shy? How’d that happen? You ain’t got no shy in you, as my grandpa would say,” Ben smirked.
“Where are you from? North Hicksville?” the girl’s voice cracked in anger.
“No, South Hicksville; North of Podunk. And I don’t like it there any more than I like this hell hole.”
“Are you serious? Do know how much this place costs?”
“Oh, don’t I know it. It’s all I’ve heard since he picked me up from the airport to drag me here.”
“Lemmee cry for you.”
“Good that would make one.”
Ben shook his head, “One person to cry for me. Sheesh, are always that dense or is it a blonde thing?”
Muscles cut in, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you two were dating or something,” he laughed.
“Laugh it up Thomas,” she roared in disgust.
“Chey, what would your father say – with you bothering the guests.” the older woman continued the interruption.
“Guests?” Ben snorted, “You mean like her dad owns this place?”
“Yes,” the woman answered with a look on her face that seemed to ask, of course he does, what wouldn’t he?
He chuckled, “That explains everything.”
“That doesn’t explain anything, twerp.” The girl was red-faced.
“Why don’t you just go for a swim in Daddy’s pool and cool off?” Ben wasn’t playful this time. His tone said, “or else.”
She stomped her foot and with a turn jumped into the pool, narrowly missing the woman.
The woman shook her head, “I’m sorry, she has cabin fever from three weeks at sea.”
“I bet you guys have your own yacht too.” Ben giggled.
“Yes, why?” It was that look again. Ben decided to start calling her Mrs. Clueless.
“No reason.” Ben gathered his laptop and stuffed it into the bag.
“We aren’t making you leave are we?” the woman asked.
“Yup. I have no intention of being here when she pops out of the pool. Besides, my dad and his girlfriend are hopefully finished playing rabbits and we can go eat something.”
It had to be the blonde thing. She looked dumbfounded, “Does your mother know?”
“Kinda. They’ve been divorced for a year now.”
“Dude, you okay?” Muscles, er – okay, Thomas said.
“Not until I get to Atlanta. But I have three months of this crap first.” Ben latched his gaze on the bodyguard. “You guys won’t be here that long will you?”
“Nope, three days tops. Then we’re off to Panama to go through the channel then over to Mr. Pulace’s resort on Wakiki.”
“No wonder you got that good tan.”
“It keeps me up at night, looking this good.” Thomas smiled and patted Ben on the shoulder. “Dude, look me up sometime before we leave. I came from a family like yours. I might be able to help iron out some bumps.”
“That might be cool. We’ll have a beer.”
“Dude, you sure your last name isn’t Pulace?”
Ben chuckled again, “Not the last time I checked, why?”
“Not many people get Cheyenne riled like that man. It’s like your her big brother or something weird like that.”
He shook his head. “Cool. That’s the best thing to happen all month then.”
Ben accepted another pat on the back and headed back for the condo. He pulled his phone from the side pouch on his pack. Dialing his mom’s number he again got the machine. The machine with his own voice on it from five years ago.
From when the world was still right. From before the divorce. From before his father abandoned them, forcing his mother to work two jobs to try to catch up on the bills, while he rode away on his motorcycle to do God knows what.
There was a fear that his father would just leave him here, abandon him a second time. Then, what would it matter? He had coped before, and now it seemed his mother had done the same.
He had a thought of maybe finding which of these huge boats was Chey and Thomas’ and stow away on it until Hawaii. That would show them. Or not. He suddenly had a vision of staring down the barrel of the Glock and wetting his pants. Wait. Double check to make sure he didn’t really…
Whew, okay. Another embarrassing moment averted. Well, kinda. One of the bikinis noticed his crotch-glance and started giggling. Obviously she was thinking something else, he was sure – or maybe it was he that was. He shook the adolescence from his head and continued on his path into the building. The short elevator ride later and he was siding the card into the slot on his door. They had unlocked the door at least. He went inside and plugged his computer in to let it charge in his room. He gingerly opened the door to his dad’s room and while the bed was a mess, they weren’t there.
“Gonna miss lunch too,” he groaned.
He couldn’t leave it alone. Curiosity got the better of him. He threw on some more pool-like attire and headed back for the pool. He really debated about taking his bag, but he didn’t want to leave it in the open while he was splashing around.
He retraced his path and the nearly naked bodies from before were laying on the chaises he had been on earlier.
“Chey, I think you have my chair.”
“Wrong, Dweebo. Besides, I’ve heard that song, and Thomas would have to hide your body if you were hitting on me.”
“Nah, I think he likes me getting under your skin,” Ben said, “By the way, do you know what the going price is to have age spots taken off your butt?”
“Are you looking?”
“Not really, but you sure are showing.”
“You must like it if you’ve noticed.”
“No,” he breathed out in exasperation, “I’m trying to keep from hurling, actually. How does someone walk with those sticks?” He heard a snicker from Thomas’ direction.
“There you go again,” she said, “Do I need to start getting pissy?”
“The bathrooms are in the cabana over there.”
She sat upright and started to stand but got dizzy.
“Hey, hang on,” Ben reached out to steady her, “I’m just kidding. You’re the most fun I’ve had on this trip. Which isn’t saying much, but I was thinking maybe we could hang out a bit.”
“You like me, right?”
“No. I wanna talk to Thomas, but it looks like your are his bodyguard instead of the other way around.”
She tried to stand but staggered again.
“Have you drank any water today?” Ben asked.
“I had an energy drink after breakfast.”
Ben held up his hand for the poolside waiter. When he approached to Chey saying she was fine and she didn’t need anything, Ben ordered a cherry water, laid her back down on the chaise and draped her towel over her.
“I thought you were her bodyguard man?” Ben hollered at Thomas who was still surveying for paparazzi.
“I am. But I’m watching that turd over there with his SLR snapping vid footage of you with your hands all over her. Trying to decide whether to beat the crap out of him and grind the data card to dust, or let the guy have his free lunch today at Chey’s expense.” Thomas didn’t have the nice-guy tone from earlier.
“Like she’s not already giving him plenty to look at.”
“They can’t take those kind of pictures without just cause. Distribution of kiddy porn. At least, that’s what the last one was charged with.”
“So, you are saying this is my fault?”
Casually Thomas said, “Nope. You have your observations of me, and I have mine of you. I’m waiting for something more to tell me something about you.”
“What?” he asked.
The waiter had returned and gave Chey the drink.
“Charge it to Benjamin Balden.”
The waiter was shocked. “But sir, you do know who this is?”
“B-A-L-D-E-N. And not Gary. Benjamin.”
The waiter nodded and walked away. Ben turned to Thomas.
“Now what were waiting for?”
“What you just did.” Thomas put his finger to his ear and spoke into nothingness. “Perimeter Four, bring me the camera and Mister Chastell – again.”
Within minutes two heavily armed men in tailored suits ushered the disheveled man to their area.
“I almost let you have those one’s Eddie. But the new kid has something you don’t. You wanna know what that is?”
The man shook his head, seemingly an involuntarily quiver, but said nothing.
Thomas laid his hand atop the man’s head, “Chivalry, Eddie. Chivalry. You see he noticed before I did that Chey was having a slight run of heat exhaustion and he fixed it, but you wanna know how he fixed it?”
The man shrugged, nodded, and shook he head all in the same scared movement.
“He didn’t do what most teenaged boys would do and let his dad pick up the tab. And he didn’t let the girl he just met pick up the tab either. He paid it himself. Himself. Ya get that Eddie? And he’s had enough balls to give Chey back her crap all morning. It’s actually spooky. Kinda like her long, lost brother or something, or maybe the good twin?”
Chey didn’t like that one too much but she sipped the water anyway.
“So Eddie. I can’t let you have that round, and I’ve told you before, don’t be hangin’ around when shes so… um – immodest.”
He turned his attention to the men holding the photographer. “Six the card but give him the camera back.”
They both echoed, “Sir!” and dragged the man away.
“Good one Benjamin Balden.” Thomas said. “Good choice.”
“Your guys are doing a background on me aren’t they.”
“As we speak. You caught that huh?”
“You never touched your earpiece off, then said my full name. My middle name is Andrew.” Ben waved his hand toward Thomas’ face.
“You got somethin’ your worried about us finding?”
“Well, my internet searches are probably pretty exciting.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Yeah, you probably will.” Ben rotated back to Chey who had already finished the water. “Feeling any better?”
“Yeah. Not bad,” she said lifting the nearly empty glass. “But what’s with this nice crap all the sudden? I thought you didn’t like me.”
“Oh, I don’t, but I don’t wish heat stroke on anybody. There’s still stuff my dad can’t do, reliably.”
“Your dad has been through a heat stroke?” Thomas asked.
“Yeah, he’s in construction. He was on a house a few summers ago and fell out in an attic with nobody there to pull him out. He’s lucky he didn’t die. I’m not, but he is.”
Chey nudged his leg, “Why do you hate your dad so much?”
“It’s a long story and your too rich to understand it.”
“I’m being serious, Ben. No jokes this time. Family is special, you shouldn’t have to feel that way about him.” She had a warmth to her voice that reminded him of his mom.
“Whatever.” Ben spun to the pair that were making huge strides to the small group.
“Well, now. This is a different thing for you Ben,” his dad said with a grin toward the girl next to Ben.
“Oh, my gosh! Tamera!” Cicilia gushed.
“Cicilia Montrose? Is it really you?”
Ben closed his eyes in disbelief and took in a deep breath of the salty air.
“Yes! Is it true you married that hunk real estate guy from Saint Raphael, France that we went to high school with?” Cicilia destroyed whatever illusion of a conversation Ben was having. As usual; it was all about her.
“Yes, Everette Pulace. And this is my daughter Cheyenne.”
Cicilia grabbed and shook Chey’s hand before she noticed the attire, then blushed a bright pink. “Isn’t she a bit young for that get-up?”
Tamera did that look she was becoming famous for. The clueless one. “What do you mean? That suit cost us fifteen hundred Euro in Venice. It was hand stitched and only Chey can wear it.”
“Good. I don’t think it would fit me.” Ben joked.
Chey smiled at him, “You’d look good in it.” She tried to make it sound like a retort but her joke was obvious.
Ben swallowed. It was becoming really uncomfortable. Ben suddenly wondered why Thomas had let his dad and the tramp approach.
A new face approached. A white Italian suit, a silk shirt, unbuttoned to the sternum, and a fluff of blond hair that was the talk of magazines everywhere. Chey had his nose.
“Everette, this is Cicilia Montrose and her husband…” she waved to get his name.
“Gary Balden,” Ben’s father said shaking Chey’s father’s hand.
“And her son, Brian,” Tamera continued.
Chey corrected her mom. “Benjamin Andrew Balden.”
Ben smiled back at her. Maybe these next three months won’t be so bad after all.
“He’s not my son. He’s an accident from Gary’s first marriage,” Cicilia barked, “He’ll last about two more days then we can send him back to his mommy and finally have our time alone.”
Ben felt his face drop. All he could see was Chey’s jaw drop and the hurt written across her eyebrows as she scanned his face. He swallowed again, knowing his father would back up her story.
“Now Cici, he’s with us for two weeks, until you two get to know each other.” Gary tried to smooth over the possible construction account contact before his son would make a scene.
There wouldn’t be any conflict from Ben. Not now anyway. Cicilia had already blown his chances of anything worthwhile coming from this meeting. She was sure that she would continue to drive a wedge between whatever spark he and Chey might have. Funny how he had already forgotten about the age difference.
“What’s to get to know Gair? I’m fabulous and he’s a conspiracy nutcase. All of his ‘bugging out’ and ‘big brother’ crap. I’m ready for him and his laptop to leave already.”
“I’m a survivalist. It’s what we do. We save moronic beautiful people from death when bad things happen,” he twisted back to Muscles, “Don’t we Thomas?”
Everette shed his inanimate gaze to glare at Ben. “You know my daughter’s bodyguard’s first name already?” He turned to the statue who had gone back to scanning the perimeter, “Do you always just allow people to get so close to my daughter without her parent’s permission?”
“No, sir. He was no threat, and you know how Chey was acting at breakfast. He is a class two in our database, meaning if something bad happens he could possibly be of a great assistance to me in protecting her.”
“Really?” Everette slowly shifted back around to look Ben in the face. “And what are your intentions for my half-naked little girl here, boy?”
“A sparring partner,” Ben answered.
“Sparring partner? As in fighting?”
“No, sir. She has a mind far more serious than anyone else I’m around,” he glared at Cicilia, “She’s a challenge, and I like that.”
“You like my daughter?”
“I think we could be friends.”
“I asked, Do you like my daughter?”
“Romantically?” he phrased it like the question couldn’t possibly be serious. “You do know I’m only thirteen right?”
Everette spun to Thomas. “August 6th sir. He’s thirteen and two months,” the bodyguard answered.
Ben was watching Chey’s expression when she looked back from her father to his face. “Hey Gair, speaking of breakfast, did you two eat without me again?” Ben said with a tone of irritation, most noticed by everyone at the instance of him calling his father by name.
“Yeah, we couldn’t find you.”
Ben turned from Chey and held out his hand, “You will feed me, if nothing else happens.”
Gary stared disapprovingly at his son then dug his wallet from his front pocket. He dropped a twenty in his hand.
“Great one Dad. That’ll get me a Pepsi and a handful of crackers. You’re the greatest, Mr. Pulace should take lessons.”
Ben felt all of the eyes on him as he walked away.