Hey all! Another new story by me coming out here, and this one will have a set weekly update schedule. I will update on Thursdays, and this is a promise I can keep because the story is already completely written.
Title: The Mystery of El Jardín
Summary: A group of college students with clashing personalities wins an all-expenses-paid weeklong vacation at a luxury resort in the Caribbean, thinking it will be spent on the beach in the glorious sunshine. However, after landing it becomes very apparent that all is not as it should when the students find themselves alone on the island with only their pilot and one guide. Or are they..?
Disclaimer: Plot is derived from the Choices story Endless Summer and is the property of Pixelberry Studios. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Names and places have been changed for the purpose of Fanfiction.
Everything around me was green; the bushes, the vines, and the trees. My feet pounded against the ground as I ran for my life from something, but I wasn't about to stop and turn around to find out what.
I was abruptly pulled under a bush, and when I looked, I didn't recognize the man who'd done it. He crouched beside me with one finger pressed against his lips.
"Stay down. It's coming this way," he said.
I listened despite not knowing him because I mysteriously knew he'd keep me safe no matter what.
Everything went dark, and I was running toward an enormous stone building. Another unknown man stood by the entrance, reaching toward me.
"Bella! Give me your hand!"
I reached for him, but darkness overcame me once again.
An unfamiliar bodiless male voice spoke into my ear, and their words turned my blood to ice. "You don't understand, do you? Of course not. But you will. In time."
Turbulence jolted me awake, and I blinked away the strange dream as I adjusted to the bright sunlight.
"Morning, sleepyhead," Benjamin, my best friend in the entire world, said and gave me a goofy smirk from the seat next to me.
I stretched and yawned as I recalled why I was on a plane and where I was heading. "I'm not still dreaming, am I?"
"Nope! As unreal as it is, though, we're almost there," he said, his smirk stretching into an excited grin.
The chatter of the ten contest winners from our school filled the small space. Benjamin certainly wasn't the only one looking forward to this trip.
In the front row, a girl with flaming red hair relaxed back into her seat and sighed. "One magical week in paradise, here we come!"
"All expenses paid! Hell yeah!" Peter Chen said as loudly as if he was on the football field instead of inside a small private plane.
"Good thing, too. I'm so deep in student debt I couldn't even afford instant ramen right now." Emmett McCarty was compassionate and loyal, but I knew his student loans weren't the sole cause for his empty bank account. So was his need to party and get high.
I was just as excited as the rest of them, but the remnants of my dream lingered in my mind. Even though it'd been absurd beyond reason, it had felt too real.
"You okay? Was it a bad dream?" Benjamin's forehead creased with worry.
"Just a weird one," I said. "I dreamed about… him!" I stared with open-mouthed shock as the second guy from my dream came walking down the aisle toward us.
"You dreamt about QB Garrett Gayle?" Benjamin's worried expression morphed into one of amusement. "Can't blame you. He is dreamy." His eyes lit up mischievously. "And you're gonna talk to him." He pushed me into the aisle, right as Garrett was about to pass, and I fell into his arms.
"Whoa, hello there!" Garrett said with a surprised, but kind, smile.
Benjamin leaned out from his seat. "My friend Bella here wants to talk to you."
Garrett's smile remained as he waited for me to speak, and the pressure caused me to blurt it out.
"I had a dream about you."
His smile widened. "Is that so? A good one I hope."
My cheeks heated from embarrassment and discomfort. "Not really. It was quite terrifying." I realized after I confessed how it sounded to him and hurried to explain. "But not because of you! It's just—" I scrambled as I tried to save what little dignity I had left.
Garrett interrupted me, his million-dollar, pearly-white-teeth smile still in place. "Don't worry. I'll take it as a compliment," he said and slipped by me.
"Oh man, I got that whole thing on video. Your face is—" He stopped mid-sentence, and I looked over at him. He was staring at his phone in confusion.
"Does your clock say it's 5:15?"
I checked. "Yeah. Why?"
"We should've landed an hour ago, and you weren't snoring for that long."
I shot him an unamused smile. "Hilarious. I'll go ask the pilot why we're late."
I passed by the other passengers, who were talking over each other, as I headed to the front.
"Will you cease your babbling? The guide is trying to speak," a blond guy with an English accent said, his tone irritated.
A small girl with short black hair smiled at him. "Thank you, Alistair! As your escort for the week, I just want to say that everyone should try to be friends. It's an island, so you're stuck with each other. My name is Alice and I will be with you every day for the fun adventures we'll have together!"
"Is it too late to jump out of the plane?"
I recognized Rosalie Hale's fed up tone. She was sitting alone, with her arms crossed, and an annoyed expression. I could remember how I used to envy her when we were freshmen at UCLA, but during sophomore year, she changed. Colored her blonde hair black and red, cut it very short, and pierced both her nose and eyebrow. She avoided everyone like the plague, except the other computer geniuses on campus.
I entered the cockpit and noticed the pilot had his combat boots kicked up on the dashboard. It wasn't the image I had expected, and I cleared my throat. "Hey, it's Edward, right? Weren't we supposed to have landed by…" I trailed off when I saw his eyes were closed, and horror replaced my uncertainty. "Are you sleeping?!"
"Hm?" He opened his eyes and looked back at me. I had to hold in my initial reaction to gasp when I recognized him from my bizarre dream because I wanted to avoid a repeat of what had transpired with Garrett. Then he opened his mouth. "Listen, Princess, don't you know it's rude to wake someone who's taking a nap?"
He wasn't making me feel safe anymore, but it was the nickname I reacted to. "'Princess'?"
"What can I say? I give nicknames to people who annoy me," he said and settled back in his seat.
I wasn't well-versed in great come-backs, so I copied him instead. "If those are the rules, that entitles me to give you a nickname as well."
"Good luck. Takes work to be as good as I am."
His arrogance didn't impress me, and I grinned as the perfect nickname came to me. "Top Gun."
"I'm gonna call you Top Gun from now on." I was very proud of myself for coming up with it.
His mouth fell open in surprise, but he quickly recovered and smirked. "I'll give you that one, but you ain't clever enough to keep them coming." He stretched and straightened up in his seat while checking his instruments. "What the hell?" he said quietly and whacked the panel a few times. "That can't be right…"
I questioned whether he was an actual pilot. "You sure you know what you're doing?"
He rolled his eyes, but his smile was still very much in place. "If you knew half the things I've survived, you'd bet on me to get you through anyth—"
Out of nowhere, turbulence began hammering the plane, and I lost my balance. I was thrown into the wall of the cockpit, and my shoulder hit the hard surface at a painful angle, causing me to scream out in both pain and shock.
"It's a storm front, and it's coming in quick," Edward said, and grabbed the yoke in a steady grip. "Get your ass in a seat and tell everybody to buckle up!" I was momentarily rendered stupid and stood frozen, but that caused him to glare at me. "Now, Princess!"
Dark clouds closed in around the plane and hard gusts rocked it from side to side, making it difficult to return to my seat. Everyone started shouting unintelligibly.
Edward's voice came over the speakers. "Everyone needs to stay calm. Freak storms like this can happen, but I need you to remain in your seats and buckle up. These next few minutes will be bumpy."
With a blistering crack of thunder deafening me, the lightning hit and robbed the engine of power. The speakers crackled and cut us off from the happenings in the cockpit. Everyone's screams grew louder as panic spread.
The only one who remained calm was a dark-haired girl sitting alone in the back row, silent and unfazed. Her serenity spellbound me, but the plane lurching violently and pulled me out of my trance as I tumbled into a seat beside the ginger girl.
She was grasping the armrests so tightly her knuckles were colorless, and she refused to open her eyes even as I crash landed next to her.
"This can't happen… not yet… it's too soon." Her breathing was shallow and uneven, and I suspected she was having a panic attack, so I attempted to distract her.
"Hey… why couldn't the melons get married?"
She looked at me as if I'd lost my head. "Wha-what? I don't know!"
"Because they cantaloupe!"
She stared blankly for a moment and then cracked a shaky smile. "Because they… can't elope? That's the dumbest joke I've ever heard!" She tried to fight back her giggle, but couldn't hold it in, and broke out in infectious laughter.
"Are you mad?" Alistair cried out from across the aisle. "This isn't the time for jokes!"
"It's the perfect time for jokes," the girl defended me, and smiled, but she was still gripping the armrests with a death grip. "I'm Victoria, but you can call me Vicky."
Just as the lightning reached fever pitch, the plane burst out of the storm clouds into a sunny, blue sky. It steadied as the engine powered up anew, and everyone exhaled in relief.
"Wohooooo!" Emmett shot his arms in the air in a victory pose. "We're alive!"
Edward's voice sounded through the speakers again. "Get a good look now, 'cause we're coming in fast! Welcome to El Jardín!"
The gorgeous Caribbean island appeared to sparkle in the sunlight as we descended toward it. At its center, a volcano rose above the rainforest, breathing a tranquil column of white smoke.
The speaker system remained on, so as Edward radioed the control tower, we could hear it. "El Jardín Tower, tail number XC-DMK. We're requesting emergency priority landing." Silence met his call, and while it didn't faze any of the other passengers, I strained to listen for a response. "Carlos! Pick up, you lazy bastard. It's Edward!" The lack of response persisted, and even through the speakers, Edward's frustration was obvious. "Ignoring me won't make me forget the hundred bucks you owe me. Like it or not, we're coming in!"
The plane landed on the dirt airstrip at the island's edge and shuddered to a halt. As soon as I climbed down the stairs into the humid tropical weather, I had to squint my eyes against the bright light.
Edward was right behind me, his mouth set in a displeased grimace. "I don't know, Top Gun. That was a rough landing. I hope you don't work for tips," I said to tease him, hoping he'd pick up on the playful tone in my voice.
It worked, and he smiled. "You're kidding? I'm a damn hero for even getting you on the ground." He turned from me and called into the hangar. "Carlos, I need a tune-up!" Once again, there was nothing but silence. "Carlos!" Edward marched off, and the rest of the group started pulling their luggage from the plane's cargo bay with Garrett at the helm.
Victoria turned to me with a relaxed smile, her body language the complete opposite now that we were off the plane. "This island's supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth according to TripAdvisor's website. The beaches, the waterfalls—"
"It's also home to a plethora of rare flora and fauna!" a girl with thick-framed glasses and pony-tailed strawberry blonde hair said with excitement.
Peter rolled his eyes behind her back, and I heard him whisper to Emmett. "Ten spots on the trip and this dork had to win one." Emmett gave him a disappointed side-eye in response.
Garrett handed me my suitcase and gave me another winning smile. "Here you go."
"Thanks." I returned his smile with one of my own.
"Oh my god, your desperation is so sad." A glamorous, golden blonde girl with heavy makeup draped her arms around Garrett. "People like you always hover around the spotlight like moths."
I gave her a questioning glance. "People like me?"
"Relax. Bella was just—" Garrett tried, but the girl wasn't listening.
"Look, Garrett doesn't need any fame-seeking sluts hanging around, got it?"
Had she not called me a slut for being polite, I'd have ignored her. As it was, I couldn't hold my remark back. "Exactly. So what are you doing here?"
Her jaw dropped. "Excuse me?!"
"You heard me," I said. "Don't worry, I'll wait for you to think of a comeback."
Garrett reclaimed his personal space and stepped in between. "Kate, chill out! Bella was only being polite, and who are you to act as my bodyguard?"
As the two of them began arguing with each other, I backed away. My foot connected with something small, and I looked down to see a metal object with a red, feathered end.
"Is that a tranquilizer dart?" Benjamin came up beside me to inspect.
I crouched down and nodded as I examined the dart more closely. "It's empty. Whatever animal they shot must've been huge to need such a big dose."
"Maybe I'm biased, but you'd think they'd clean such debris away from where the resort's guests can find them."
"Yeah. Perhaps they're short on staff," I said and stood back up, only to notice we had an eavesdropper. The girl with the scar wasn't even trying to hide that she was listening to our conversation. "Who is she?"
Benjamin turned, then shrugged, unbothered. "No idea. I've never seen her on campus, but with forty-five thousand students, how many can say they know who I am?"
"There's something off about her."
"Why do you say that?"
I considered it for a moment. "She's too quiet."
"Quiet?" Benjamin laughed at me. "So what? I'm quiet. When I'm not around you."
"You're right," I said and tried to ignore my unease as I turned my eyes back to Benjamin. "I don't know why I'm suspicious."
"Well, there's one thing."
Benjamin leaned closer until I was the only one who could hear him. "Ten students from our college won this trip, right? We're not counting the pilot or the guide but count us off and she makes eleven."
I looked in the girl's direction once more and she stared back at me. Our eyes locked, and her gaze pulled me in, making it impossible to break the contact.
"Hey, Alice! Where the hell are your people?" Edward stormed back, and at last, the quiet girl looked away. The strange hold she had over me dissipated, and I blinked. "The entire place's empty!"
Alice looked around, but attempted to hide her uncertainty. "They should be here in a shuttle to take us up to the hotel, but..." She forced her smile back into place. "I'm sure it's just a slight delay! No need to fret. They'll be here any minute."
"The hell with that." Edward shook his head and pointed at the control tower. "I'm getting answers."
"You think you'll find them there?" I asked, wondering what he thought he'd find.
"Doubt it, but I'm not just gonna wait around for them, either. Call it a gut feeling, but something's going on, and it ain't good." He looked at me for a moment, appraising what he saw. "You wanna come with, Princess?"
I didn't know what to say, stunned that he asked me to come along since I thought he found me annoying.
"I could go with you—" Kate offered flirtatiously, and my jaw dropped.
"Didn't ask you, Maybelline," Edward said and walked away before either of us could react.
"Um, okay! I guess, the rest of you, please follow me?" Alice's tone shook as she tried to remain in control of the situation. "We'll take the short walk up the hill to the resort. Sounds fun, right? Yay! Um, Victoria? Where are you going?"
Victoria skipped past Alice, unbuttoning her blouse. "Some of us want to explore the beach a little first! We'll meet you guys at the hotel!"
"No, Victoria, wait—" Alice did her best to keep the group intact, but it was too late.
"Uh, Alice, I'm gonna go with Edward," I said. I was making her job difficult, but I needed to know what was going on, too. Alice called for me as I turned and jogged to catch up with him, but I ignored it.
He smirked when I sidled up next to him. "Finally decided to take active action, huh?"
"The chance of us finding answers is small, but I agree with you. Something's not right," I said and followed him on the rickety, rusted stairs leading to the top of the tall control tower. The steps felt unstable to walk on, but Edward strode on without a worry, so I assumed the structure to be safe. The rainforest stretched out before us, vibrant and lush, and I had to revel in nature's artistry. "This place is gorgeous. Do you fly out here a lot?"
He nodded. "Here and every other privately owned resort island in the Caribbean. They're the favored vacation spots of the young and the privileged." His voice had an undertone of bitterness in it.
"Doesn't sound like you enjoy it much."
He waved off my concern. "It pays the bar tab."
We were quiet for a minute, but I couldn't curb my piqued curiosity. Edward was a handsome man with his red-brown hair, green eyes, and lean-muscled frame. His arrogant, don't-care attitude was grating on my nerves, but I wanted to find the reason I'd dreamt of him before we met, and if it meant something. I wasn't certain telling him about the dream would be the right move, as I had with Garrett, though. He would most likely laugh it off and tease me without mercy.
"So what did you do before this?" I asked, thinking it was a safe question.
His expression soured, proving my assumption wrong. "Why the Twenty Questions? What does it matter what I used to do?"
I held up my hands in surrender. "Sorry," I said somewhat sarcastically. I didn't understand his defensiveness over the inane question, but it wasn't my business. So I stayed quiet until Edward proceeded on his own.
"Fighter pilot. Navy. I was good at it, too. Best in my class. Until I got discharged." His tone was different compared to how he spoke to me earlier. Empty and unhappy.
"Punched my commanding officer in the jaw," he said casually, as if it was no big deal.
I hadn't expected his answer, so it took me a moment to find the words. "I'm sure he deserved it."
He nodded. "Yeah. He did. I've been ferrying rich folks around the Caribbean and sleeping in a beach hammock in Costa Rica ever since."
I grimaced at the picture he was painting. "That sounds lonely."
Edward turned his green eyes on me. "Uh, yeah. That's the appeal."
I tried to clarify what I meant without sounding dumber than I already did. "I mean, I get wanting to get away for a while, but don't you want more? Someone to come home to, someone to listen to you, someone to hold you throughout the night and all that?"
He smirked again, his go-to expression as I had already come to realize. "You offering, Princess?"
"What?" His brashness took me aback. "No, I-I just meant, you know, in theory, that—" I stammered out, but he was only teasing me again and laughed.
"In theory, I wanted to be the best pilot the Navy had ever seen. In practice… Well, you can't beat a cold beer and a Caribbean sunset."
I knew there was more to Edward than he wanted to admit, but it wasn't my place to pry unless he wished to tell me. So, I kept my hundred questions to myself as we continued to climb the tower's stairs.
A step cracked in two beneath me, and I fell through. I tried to grip the first thing I could get a hold on, but came up empty. "Edward!" I screamed, and he reacted instantly, grabbed me, and pulled me into his arms.
The rusted fragments of the metal step twirled as they plunged fifty feet to the ground.
"I think you just saved my life," I said, feeling dizzy as the adrenaline spiked the blood going to my brain. When I turned to look at my savior, I noticed our proximity and the heat from his body. Our eyes locked and unadulterated lust darkened his, causing my heart to race even faster than it already was.
With a sudden start, Edward cleared his throat and made certain I was steady before letting me go. "Now you owe me one," he said hoarsely, making the joke fall flat. "Come on."
My legs shook as I followed him, and not just from my near-fall. Something had transpired between us, and I wasn't sure how I felt about it.
When we reached the top of the tower, Edward pushed the door open. "Carlos, you dumb—" He froze before he'd finished the sentence.
"There's no one here," I said, stating the obvious, and Edward rolled his eyes.
"Thanks, Eagle Eyes. I couldn't tell."
I ignored his comment and dragged my finger across the desk. It came back with a thick layer of dust. "Are you sure they still use this airstrip?"
"Of course I'm sure. I was here a few days ago, and I—"
I looked up to find him staring past me through the window, enraptured by what he saw. When I turned, the sight made little sense to me. In the distance, the island itself pulsed with red and blue light. The colors fluttered over the trees, tinting the atmosphere in a rippling aurora.
Edward closed the distance between us, and without either deciding to, we laced our fingers together.
"What is that?"
"I… I don't know."
We turned simultaneously and our gazes locked. The beautiful colors played across his eyes, and I was mesmerized, slowly leaning toward him like a moth to a flame. I wanted him to kiss me, despite the short time we'd known each other, and when he mirrored my movements, I suspected he desired it, too.
"Edward, I—" Time seemed to slow down, and his lips barely brush mine, but then I blinked. Suddenly, the colors had disappeared, and the spell was broken. The gravitational pull I'd felt between us dissipated as the moment passed and left me feeling lightheaded.
Edward stepped back with a wide-eyed look. Our hands were still entwined, and he coughed awkwardly as he retracted his, lifting it to rub his neck. "Sorry. Must've been something… weird with the glass here. Who knows? Forget it, just… come on."
He exited the control room, but I hesitated a moment and looked back to see if the aurora would return. But everything appeared normal. I touched my lips with my fingers, tingling as they were from the almost-kiss.
We returned to the ground in silence, but I could tell what Edward was thinking because it was also on my mind. There was a mutual attraction between us, but if it was only on the surface or ran deeper remained to be seen. When we reached the hotel, he let out a low whistle.
"This is it, huh? Flown to this island fifty times and never been off the airstrip."
The Ethereal Hotel was very impressive. Stark white, with twenty stories and the name in bold golden letters by the entrance. We headed toward the lobby and passed under a long, ornamented overhang of white marble.
"So what's your plan after this?" I asked, unashamedly trying to find out if I'd get the chance to spend more time with him. "Are you taking off again, or sticking around for a while?"
"Just need Carlos to get my plane refueled, and I'm off," he said, and winked. "Got a bottle of Añejo calling my name back in Costa Rica. Try not to miss me too much, Princess."
I smiled despite the origin of the nickname. I already found it endearing, and I realized I would miss him once he was gone. Hopefully, he'd be the one picking us up at the end of the week.
The automatic doors slid open to welcome us and we entered the crisp air-conditioned lobby, but then froze.
The rest of the group was scattered in front of us, bewildered. Beyond them, the entire lobby was devoid of life; the silence deafening. The front desk stood deserted. Suitcases and luggage carts lay unattended. On a table, a half-finished wine glass gathered dust.
Garrett noticed us entering. "Uh, did you two happen to find out where the hell everyone is?"
Where is everyone? What was that storm? And those lights seen from the tower? What was up with Bella's dream, and why is Edward so defensive about his past? Tell me all of your thoughts, and Edward will come up with a nickname for you! ;-)
Until next week,