I chewed on my fingernails as I watched my cousin Vicki brew up the espressos. Maybe she'd get it right this time! She'd only just gotten the job at Bubble Buzz when Cobalt and I had arrived a few weeks ago for our annual summer visit to Sugar Valley. Thankfully her boss seemed pretty understanding but I, for one, was certain she'd make the machine explode every time she stepped up to it.
"Ooh I think I did it!" Vicki exclaimed. I glanced over at Cobalt and noticed him looking just as uncertain as I was; so much so that he'd taken a large step back, placing me in the direct line of fire.
"Coward" I muttered, still not taking my eyes from the finicky espresso machine and my clutzy cousin.
Despite a final sputter, the machine did not explode and Vicki was saved from an espresso shower this time. She triumphantly placed the mugs on a tray and waved us over to a table. We hesitated for a second before taking a mug each - thankfully Vicki didn't notice or she might have been offended. "Good job cuz," I said after sampling her handiwork.
"Thank you, thank you," she grinned as she gave a slight curtsy. After a moment, her smile faded though. "I can't believe y'all are leavin' tomorrow. You have to stay longer next time!"
"You could always come to Caramel Canyon," Cobalt offered quickly. I gulped back more of the espresso to hide my grimace. I treasured these summer trips and would hate to spend them back in the Canyon. It wasn't about the people I saw though - it was about the people, or the person, I could get away from.
"I doubt we could get Uncle Windsor to send the boys to Caramel Canyon though..." I offered up. "It's much easier for the two of us to travel than to ask all our cousins and aunts and uncles to come to us after all."
Cobalt raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Vicki was looking anxiously toward the counter - no doubt checking for her boss - and thus didn't hear any of our conversion. "I wouldn't mind getting away from home for a couple weeks a year - mom and dad have been arguing constantly lately."
"Really? What about?" Cobalt asked curiously. I couldn't remember ever hearing Aunt Amethyst and Uncle Surf argue and we'd been staying with them for weeks!
"You two actually," Vicki said. "Dad thinks y'all should know about your dad and mom thinks it's Aunt Violet's choice."
"Does your dad know who our dad is?!" I exclaimed, nearly spitting my coffee out in surprise.
"Oh yeah, guess they were in the biz together - did some sort of a movie ages ago." Vicki glanced back to the counter and then squeaked when she saw her boss. "Eep! Best get back to work!"
I waited until she was tucked safely behind the counter before turning to Cobalt grinning, "I'm going to go use the computers..." I said, jumping to my feet.
"Zuli..." Cobalt's voice was tinged with concern and nervousness. He'd seen the glint in my eyes and he knew trouble was coming.
It hadn't taken much to find the movie in question. Uncle Surf was mostly a television actor and had been mostly out of the business for the last decade. Skimming the cast list had brought me to Mirage Kashmir - a name I recognized from my own mom's past. I couldn't ignore the similarities between us and Mr. Kashmir - particularly me!
By the time Aunt Amethyst dropped us off at the airport, full of apologies that she couldn't wait with us, I had a plan. Cobalt and I waved eagerly as she drove off and then I turned on my twin. "We need to go to Egypt!" I said, grasping his arms.
"We need to go to Egypt. Mirage Kashmir, our FATHER, is filming a movie there right now!" I explained quickly. I'd fished out my ticket and snatched his from his hand.
"Zuli!" Cobalt made a grab for the tickets but I held them out of his reach. He crossed his arms over his chest and sighed, "if you look closely, those tickets are very clearly for Caramel Canyon..."
"Which is why I need your help!" I exclaimed, marching toward the check in desk before he could protest further. The attendant smiled at me expectantly and I prayed, for once, that I had just enough of my mother in me to pull this off. "Oh miss! You just have to help us!" I threw out my most distressed, heartbroken voice. "These tickets! They're all wrong!" I threw the tickets onto the counter and covered my face quickly as if I was about to cry.
"What do you mean?" She picked up the tickets and looked them over quickly. "They seem to be in order, traveling to Caramel Canyon..."
"But we're NOT! We're supposed to be going to Egypt to visit our father!!" I shouted, drawing a few stares - especially from the bored security officers. So far the airport was fairly empty and the antics of one dramatic teenage girl was the only source of entertainment. Well if they wanted a show... "My mother - Violet Dust - " I paused and was greeted with a few startled gasps, nice name drop if I do say so myself! "My mother's assistant is just...oh she's a sweetheart but she's a bit thick and since we LEFT from Caramel Canyon she booked the return flight for Caramel Canyon! She totally forgot about our trip to see our father - Mirage Kashmir?" Another name drop, more gasping. If I weren't trying to sell something, I would have giggled.
Cobalt, still not on board with this whole plan, grabbed my elbow and tried to yank me away. "Zuli, come on...you're making a scene."
The counter attendant seemed to notice the same thing and was scrambling with the tickets. "I'm sure we can fix this somehow..."
"Oh thank you!" I said, yanking away from Cobalt. "We only get to see him a couple weeks out of the year and I would so hate a lose anytime with him!"
Cobalt looked from the counter attendant to me and shook his head. "Do you think, maybe, you could give us a moment ma'am?" Dutifully, and probably afraid of a second scene, she nodded and stepped away.
As soon as she'd disappeared behind the corner, he spun me around to face him. "Look Cobalt..."
"No you look! This is madness!" he hissed.
"No! Keeping us away from our father is madness! Keeping it a secret from us is madness! She'll never admit to it! She'll never let us near him because she's selfish!" I kept my voice low, afraid of breaking the spell over those who were watching. "I want a chance to at least meet him! I don't think that's asking too much!"
"This is crazy Zu-Zu, even by your standards!" Cobalt shook his head, then glanced over my shoulder where everyone still had their eyes on us. "Fine," he whispered. "But if we get caught - this is all on you.
I smiled, "Thank you!" Then I began obsessively ringing the little bell on the desk until the counter attendant returned.
She was very reluctant to issue us new tickets being that we were minors but luck, and the peer pressure of a dozen or so eyes boring into us, made her concede. Soon we had two brand new tickets on a flight to Egypt and were waltzing through security as if we owned the place.
No one attempted to stop us.
"Mom is going to be worried sick," Cobalt said, digging through his pack for his cell phone.
As soon as he'd pulled it out, I yanked it from his hands. "I don't care...if you call her now she'll stop us." I stared out the window toward the runway, trying to ignore his stares.
"Why are you so hard Zuli?" Cobalt asked after a moment.
"Why aren't you?" I retorted. We both had the same childhood, we both had the same mother - how could he forgive so easily? And why couldn't I?"
We passed the rest of our wait in silence. He flipped through magazines and I played Angry Berries on my phone until they called for our new flight. No one raised an eyebrow at two fifteen year olds boarding an international flight unattended. No one tried to stop us. Under other circumstances, I might question the overall security of the airport but today? Today I didn't care.
The flight was long of course. I had to keep swatting Cobalt's hand away from the in flight phone as he was still itching to call home. No doubt, by now, they knew we hadn't boarded our flight to Caramel Canyon. "You can call when we land..." I said, though I hoped to stop him even then - at least until after I tracked down Mirage.
The flight landed in Cairo first before we transferred to a smaller plane for the jump to the smaller town where the film was being made. As we disembarked from the plane, I saw the tips of the great pyramids in the distance and couldn't help but mount the crest that kept the rest of them from view.
"Zuli! Come on!" Cobalt called from the door of the bus that would take us to a nearby lodging. I looked back at him and waved before glancing back at the pyramids and smiling. Before he could yell for me again though, I turned and slid down the small hill of sand on my heels. "You were in such a hurry to get here and now you're stalling?"
"I'm not stalling!" I said, grabbing hold of the bar and pulling myself into the bus. "It's the pyramids Cobalt...we're in Egypt!" I grinned at him and squeezed him into a quick hug. "We're in Egypt!"
"Right, I got that from the hot and the sand." He said rolling his eyes at my enthusiasm. "You should know, I plan to call Mom as soon as we're checked in."
"Yeah yeah," I waved him off.
The bus deposited us fifteen minutes later in front of a small hotel of some sort. Outside there were pitched tents as well.
I grabbed my own bags and ran for the notice board outside the hotel. It was tacked full of adverts for everything from adventures to roommates. There were public service announcements - some that looked as old as the Great Pyramids themselves!
"Look at this one," I said excitedly jabbing at one old, crusty paper. It was weathered by the sun and sand and the words were a little difficult to make out, "Be advised, the Great Sphinx is haunted by the spirits of the dead. Foolish tourists to tarry there have gone missing - never to be seen again! Venture not toward this dreaded place, lest you join them in their tragic fate. Call..." I squinted, trying to make out the name and number affixed to the paper but it had fade or been etched away with time. "Call, someone, for safe tours."
"Can we just check in Zuli so we can get this madness over with?" Cobalt adjusted his backpack on his shoulder.
"Spoil sport. Embrace the experience Cobalt! Egypt! We should go to the Sphinx while we're here!" When he didn't immediately agree with me, I decided not to push my luck and obliged him by going inside.
There was no one behind the check in desk and no bell to ring this time. A red haired boy who was probably about our age sat reading a book on one of the couches in the lobby.
I looked back at Cobalt confused and then looked back toward the desk when I saw his expression - right, this was all on me. "Um...anyone around?" I called out - mostly toward a door behind the desk that probably led to the office. "Hellllllooo" I called out again.
Cobalt grunted and left my side, opting to drop his bags beside the couch and sit down while we waited. The red haired boy didn't look up at either of us, thoroughly engrossed in his book.
At long last, a portly gentleman came bustling out of the office and looked at me apologetically. After the initial business of securing a room was taken care of, I asked him about the movie shoot - surely in a town this size it would be talked of by everyone.
Thankfully, I was proven correct and had a new found sense of excitement as I returned to Cobalt, key in hand. Dropping onto one of the couches, I grinned. "So, he said that crew generally films about fifteen miles from here. They've set up a small camp where most of the crew has actually been staying to expedite things I guess. Anyway! They're filming right now! So we should go!"
"Excuse me for interrupting," the red haired boy said, stopping Cobalt from responding.
"Yeah?" I asked, my impatience no doubt showing through as Cobalt sent me a withering glare. "Sorry, what is it?"
"You said miles - I think you mean Kilos, you are in Egypt after all."
"Oh! Right! Thanks!" I stammered, blushing with embarrassment. "So," I looked back at Cobalt, "Let's drop off our stuff in the room and go!"
"Do you know the place she's talking about... I'm sorry I don't know you're name..." Cobalt was ignoring me in favor of the red head.
"I am Mojo, Mojo Paarl. And I have heard of the movie being made yes. I know where it is." Mojo said.
Cobalt quickly struck up a lengthy conversation with our new friend while I was relegated to moving the luggage from the lobby to our room upstairs. Of course there was no elevator and of course Cobalt seemed to be traveling with every book in the berryverse. After a few trips, everything was stowed away nicely and I returned to the lobby to find Mojo gone. "Alright, I'm ready," Cobalt said, tucking a handwritten map into his jacket pocket.
"Are you sure about this Zuli?" Cobalt had been following a map dictated by Mojo and paused just a few meters from the camp. From our current location, no one could see us but we could see the bustle of the crew collecting their lunch from the buffet table.
"Absolutely. Aren't you the least bit curious Cobalt? About our father?" I asked.
"I have a father Zuli - so do you. Nepal has been more a dad to us than this man, whoever he is, can ever claim."
Cobalt's words stung - just as he'd meant them to. I liked Nepal - I loved him really - and he was my dad. But not knowing who my real, biological father was - it was like I was missing part of myself. "Yeah well, I want more. I just want to meet him..."
"Then go on, now's you're chance," Cobalt said as Mirage came into view. His hair and eyes were the same dark blue color of mine. Our eyes and nose shape were the same too. Physically, there was no denying I shared DNA with that man.
With a deep breath, I walked into view, hoping and praying that Cobalt had my back. Confidence was key - that's what they always said right? A couple berries scrambled to the sawhorses that cut off the filming site from the rest of Egypt in an attempt to stop us but Mirage, at that moment, caught me eye. He knew.
In moments they were waved away and we were allowed past the barricade. Though filming was about to recommence, Mirage turned his attention to us. "So, she's sent you to me at last..."
"She - I assume you mean our mother - didn't send us, she doesn't even know we're here," Cobalt said quickly.
"Ah well, quite the little rebels than," he seemed amused by this. "So..."
"You're our father right? I mean it's obvious to me but...you are?" I asked quickly, still studying his features, comparing them to my own and to Cobalt.
"You don't know?" Mirage asked.
"No, she'd never tell us who....I made a guess...." I gulped. I was right wasn't I? This wasn't going to turn out to be a horrid mistake where I accused one of Berrywood's biggest stars of fathering us and it was just a mistake.
"I can't say I blame here there," Mirage said, chuckling. "I would make a terrible father..."
I jumped to my feet, suddenly enraged by his flippant attitude. "You've never even tried! You've known all along that we were there....and you didn't..."
"Zuli..." Cobalt reached out for me but I jerked away from him quickly.
"I'm not your father Lazuli....biologically, I can't deny that but no - it's not me," Mirage said, for a moment he seemed apologetic about it, sad even. But then he straightened his back and adopted his signature smirk, "I didn't want children or a family - I didn't want forever."
"You didn't want us..." I swiped at the traitorous tears in my eyes. I would not cry here, in front of him.
"No, I didn't," he said. "And I still don't. You shouldn't have come here!"
"Are you alright Mr. Kashmir?" a timid, female voice asked from behind me.
"He's fine! We were just leaving!" I shouted.
Before either of them could stop me, I seized Cobalt's hand and we all but ran from the camp. Once we were several meters away and hidden from sight, I fell down into the sand and sobbed.
Back at camp, Mirage had shooed the assistant away and watched as his children ran from him. They hated him now - he'd burst the imaginative bubble they'd created and sent them fleeing. "Just as well, I'm not father material," he muttered, closing his eyes for a moment to recollect himself.
Afterwards, he pulled out his cell phone to place a quick call - the only real father-like act he'd ever made. The ringing on the other end never seemed to end but finally she picked up - her voice was frantic and she tried to offer up apologies so she could hang up on him, "Vi, they're here..."
So that...that was horrible. I followed Cobalt silently back to the hotel wondering what had possessed me to make this trip. I'd been operating under an illusion, a far-fetched idea that he would fill the gap. That meeting him, knowing him, would help repair the years of anger and hurt.
Cobalt tried to engage me in conversation and even offered to take me to the Sphinx in the morning but I ignored him and collapsed onto the nearest available couch. On the TV in front of me, the Home Shopping Network was being broadcast. I didn't realize Egyptian's had the same overwhelming desire for worthless junk as the rest of us...
I stared at the screen - some sort of all in one food processor for six equal payments of 19.99 - but didn't hear the words of the sales pitch.
Mojo could have been staring at me for several minutes before I noticed his presence. As soon as I turned toward him, he took it as an invitation and joined me on the couch. "I have that one..." he said, pointing to the screen.
I quirked an eyebrow and looked at the screen once more, actually allowing myself to listen to the words spewing forth from the presenters. "You spent a hundred and twenty simoleans on a food processor?" I asked incredulously.
"Well it's more than a food processor! It slices and dices and does julienne fries!" He said mimicking the announcers.
"I stand corrected. Was it worth it? Because, ya know, our processor only purees I think."
"I wouldn't know - it's still in the box," Mojo said with a smile. I chuckled, the afternoon tension slowly dissipating. "Bad day then?"
"Yes, you could say that," I said. "I was rejected by my own father..."
"I am sorry to hear that," Mojo seemed to have more to say but thought better of it and silence resumed. I watched the mindless drivel of the shopping channel, unwilling to provide conversation.
To say I was surprised when his hand touched my shoulder would have been an understatement. I should have rejected him and pulled away but after the day I'd had, I couldn't turn away from the human contact and touch he offered.
More than that, it was comforting and warm. I leaned back into his arm and turned towards him, an appreciative smile on my face. "Thank you."
Cobalt passed us and started to say something but thought better of it at the last moment. Instead he stood, looming over us like a perplexed statue until I broke the silence. "I suppose you called Mom by now?" I didn't realize how much I hoped he had until I'd said it.
"Actually I did - but it went straight to voice mail. I also called the airline to book tickets home for tomorrow though. Unless..." he looked over at Mojo - particularly how Mojo's arm was draped protectively over my shoulder.
"Hmm? Oh, tomorrow should be fine - I'm sure Mom is freaking out by now..." Cobalt nodded and after another moment of silence, he went over to the chess table, positioning himself in such a way that he could watch us.
I turned away from him, trying to ignore his intrusive, brotherly presence. When I turned back to Mojo, he was looking at me, his head cocked to one side and his lips quivering a bit as if in anticipation.
The realization that he wanted to kiss me came first. This was followed quickly by the desire to kiss him as well; my own lips began to quiver then and I leaned forward a bit.
I was eager for this, my first kiss, and I didn't even mind that it would be with a nearly complete stranger. Depression and rejecting is a powerful drug.
In the few seconds that we sat there, all the picture perfect first kisses of literature and fiction seemed to flash through my mind. And I pushed forward - ready to have my own picture perfect moment to erase all the bad of the day.
He'd moved forward at the same time unfortunately and the kiss was not to be, at least not with lips. Our foreheads meet in a thud though - akin to a scene from the Three Stooges.
The spell was broken.
I jumped up and ran before Mojo could say anything. Cobalt was glaring - though whether he was glaring at me or Mojo I couldn't tell.
I took the stairs two at a time and slammed the bedroom door behind me. I showered quickly and crawled into bed - though it was only just after eight in the evening. I just wanted to sleep. If I slept then perhaps I'd wake up in the morning still in Sugar Valley or even back home in Caramel Canyon.
This could all be a dream, a terrible, horrible, very bad dream.
Of course that's not how it happened - it never happens like that. When I did wake up, it was still fairly dark outside but I could see the glow of the pyramids on the horizon and dusk was coming. The sky was turning a glorious purple with each moment.
I tip toed past Cobalt's bed and out onto the balcony. One of the lounge chairs was occupied by none other than Mojo and I thought twice about returning to bed when I saw his red hair poking up. "I know you're there, may as well join me. Sunrise is beautiful here you know."
"I can't believe I did this..." I said by way of greeting.
"What exactly?" Mojo asked, not taking his eyes from the horizon.
"Came to Egypt, assaulted Mirage like I did, nearly kissed a stranger...."
"None of it was good?" he asked, turning to me to smile.
I chuckled, wrapping my arms around myself. "It was an experience. I guess it feels like I wasted what may be my only trip to Egypt by making bad choices."
Mojo stood up and offered me his hand without a word. Though more cautious than I was just hours earlier, I took it and allowed him to pull me up. We stood at the railing of the balcony together as the sun came further up into the sky. "You see those pyramids there," he pointed, giving me only a moment to look before spinning me another direction. "And the Sphinx there." Again he gave me a moment to look at this great world wonders before spinning me once again, this time to face him. "And me, there's also me. Egypt has a great many things to offer and I, for one, hope you choose to come back again."
And then he kissed me.
And it was perfect.
Just like a movie.