The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Sarah Jane asked Linda why she agreed to the reality dating show. Linda told Sarah Jane about a non-profit she works with that helps women escape the overseas sex trade. Liam told Cassie she had to repeat her apology to Amanda for hitting her in the nose with a volleyball. A blue pickup arrived at the beach that looks like Sarah Jane’s brother Jake’s truck.
I watched the blue truck glide to a stop. I strained for a glimpse of the driver. The passenger door flew open and a girl hurtled toward me.
“Auntie SJ!” April wrapped her arms around my waist.
A cameraman swiveled in my direction.
“April? What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
Nathan, not Jake, strode to us, shoving his keys into the front pocket of his jeans. “It wasn’t easy.”
“What’s wrong?” Since Mom and Dad were both gone, and April was right here, I couldn’t imagine what propelled Nathan to find me on a Malibu beach.
“April misses her aunt.” Nathan pushed the ball cap up his forehead. His expression was a mixture of affection and exasperation. He gave me a one-armed Richter man-hug. “She refuses to eat. She cries herself to sleep. She’s driving her mother crazy so Anna did some internet searches and she found your name at your school’s website as a teacher. She asked her Facebook friends if anyone knew a family from that school. It took a couple weeks, but here we are.”
Now it was my turn to be exasperated. “I still have my Rosedale cell phone number. She could have just called.”
“She figured you wouldn’t answer. Either the phone or her questions.”
He was right. If Anna called I wouldn’t have picked up. April stood between us, watching her Uncle Nathan and I talk.
“But, still, Nate,” I said. “You drove four hours to talk to me on a beach?”
He shrugged. “It gave me an excuse for a day off.”
“What about the peaches? And the plums?”
“Jake said he, Daniel, and Abel can get along without me for one day. It was important to his daughter that she see her aunt.” His eyes grew steely. “And that she be reassured her aunt hasn’t abandoned her and that her aunt is fine and healthy.”
I bit my lower lip and nodded, then crouched to look April in the eye. “Do you want to go in the water? It’s chilly, but—”
April didn’t let go of my leg. “Yes!”
We turned and made our way to the wet sand line. The camera followed. A few of the other girls gave us curious looks as we passed. The volleyball players giggled as they fell in the sand.
“SarahJane!” I turned to the voice.
Cassie jogged up. “That was a waste of words and time. I guess it’s not filmed anymore so I can’t say it was a waste of film. What do you waste on digital? Space? Megabytes? Pixels?” The whole time she talked, she eyed Nathan.
When she paused for a breath, I jumped in. “Cassie, this is my brother Nathan, and my niece April.”
Nathan stuck out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. I’m not April’s father.”
I laughed as Cassie shook his hand. The cameraman backed up.
“We’re just going in the water,” I said. “April wanted to visit me and Nathan agreed to bring her.”
“I’ve heard all about you, April,” Cassie said. She flashed a smile at Nathan. “But not a word about your uncle. Are there any more brothers at home, SarahJane?”
Nathan grinned. “Two other bachelors. I’m the good looking one, though.”
Liam joined our little group. “What’s going on?”
I made the introductions and explanations.
“Okay, but Nathan, you’ll have to sign a release. And we can’t have April on camera without a parent’s consent.”
Nathan and I exchanged a glance. “That’s not going to happen,” I said.
Liam nodded. “Well, try to keep her back to the camera so we don’t have to pixelize her face.”
“But this isn’t part of the show, right?” I asked. “Nathan and April just came to visit me. They’re not staying. And they don’t have anything to do with Austin or Linda looking for true love.”
Liam nodded but then his eyes glazed over. “Uh … yeah … maybe …” His gaze snapped back to Nathan. “I gotta check on something. Enjoy your swim. Help yourself to food at the catering truck. I’ll be back. Don’t leave until I talk to you though.” He turned and jogged away, his feet churning a sand wake.
“What’s that all about?” Nathan asked.
Cassie and I stared at Liam’s retreating back then looked at each other and shrugged. “No telling,” I said. “But it’s not going to be good.”