The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Sarah Jane and Linda, Austin’s mother, walked along the beach getting acquainted. Someone buried Sarah Jane’s flip-flops and towel under a mound of sand. Linda invited Sarah Jane to sit on her beach blanket. Sarah Jane asked about Austin as a little boy.
“Austin was obsessed with superheroes. He broke his leg when he was eight jumping off the stairs. He tied a towel around his neck for a cape, said a few words he’d made up as a ‘magic’ phrase, and leaped. He was in a cast all summer which cured him of believing he had super powers.”
I reached to the blanket’s edge, picked up a handful of sand, then let it sift out through my fingers. “Sounds like he’s daring.”
“He is that.” Linda sounded bemused.
“Why are you on the show, Linda?” I asked.
The only sound was the sand making a miniature dune. I scooped up more and repeated the process. When the silence had stretched to a full minute, I looked at her.
Sunglasses hid her eyes, but her mouth was pulled into a tight line and compassion stabbed me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Never mind. It’s none of my business.”
She sighed. “No, turnabout is fair play. I asked you first.”
“It’s twofold. Part of it is Austin’s story to tell. The other is … it sounds so self-serving when I say it out loud, but if I want your girls to be honest about yourself and your motives, I guess I have to be the same.”
By now a giant pit had opened in my stomach and possibilities skidded through my mind. She and Austin ran a sex trafficking ring, finding girls and shipping them overseas to be auctioned off. No, I discarded that one immediately. The FBI or the State Department or someone would notice if women from a television show started disappearing. Maybe they ran a pyramid scheme business and wanted to recruit naïve women to invest.
“I have a non-profit group and I wanted to raise awareness of what we do,” Linda said.
My shoulders slumped and I exhaled with relief. “Whew. That’s so much better than what I was just imagining.”
She laughed and ran a hand down her throat. “I’m afraid to ask what you were thinking.”
“What kind of work does your non-profit do?”
“We help women caught in the sex trade. We teach them, give them skills to make a living.”
Guilt about what I’d speculated a minute ago flooded me. “How wonderful!” I must have said it too loudly because from the corner of my eye I saw the sound man with the earphones jump a little and make a shushing motion. “I mean, that’s really admirable,” I said in a lower tone. “Tell me about it.”
“It’s called Out of Darkness, Into Hope. DTH for short.” Linda pushed her sunglasses on top of her head. “We have workers in several southeast Asia countries and we want to expand.” Her voice filled with passion as she went on to tell me about some of the women her group had already saved.
“Austin may have thought and dreamed about being a super hero, but you’re doing the work of one,” I said.
She shook her head. “I’m just the stateside face. I try to raise awareness and funds, but it’s hard. We’re a complacent people and we don’t like to acknowledge unpleasant realities.”
My brow furrowed. “Do you think it’s that or are we just so overwhelmed by the magnitude of some issues that we don’t know where to start?”
Her head waggled. “Maybe.” She didn’t sound convinced.
We looked up as Austin strode to the shelter, a girl on either side. “Let’s go for a walk. Tiff and Hayley want to get acquainted with you.”
“Coming.” Linda stood and turned to face me. “Thanks for the chat, Sarah Jane. I better go do my mom thing.” She winked, grabbed her sarong and made her way to Austin and the girls.
Before I had a chance to wonder what to do, Cassie joined me on the blanket. Liam followed her.
“We have a problem.” Liam crouched next to us. “Amanda is threatening to leave the show. Her nose is swollen.”
Cassie shrugged. “It was an accident and I apologized.”
Liam nodded. “There was a problem with the sound and the production people want you to do it again.”
“Are you kidding me?” Cassie sounded more annoyed than angry but I agreed with her.
“It should be done and over,” I said.
“This is the reality of reality television. Sometimes the reality is scripted.” Liam stood. “Come with me. They’re set up near the volleyball net.”
Cassie sighed but got to her feet and followed him.
A flash of blue caught the edge of my gaze and my head followed as if magnetized.
A pickup had pulled into the parking lot.
A blue pickup just like my brother Jake’s.