AN: I'm afraid it may be awhile before I get Rafting Trip finished. The last chapter(s) is proving to be the most difficult. So my dear, patient, faithful readers, I will upload this little story for you. Hopefully it will tide you over until I get the other one finished. I'm not giving up on it; unless I kick off suddenly, it WILL be finished, but inspiration is elusive right now.
Anyway, please enjoy, and thank you for your patience! And a million thanks again to my lovely beta, Raina!!
At the exalted age of twenty, I didn't always pay attention to the people around me. What I was doing always seemed far more important. So that Saturday, in late July, as I sat beside my diving gear waiting for the sun to dry my equipment and myself, I'm not sure what it was that drew my attention to a small, sad child.
I was taking a much needed break from work, Templar research, and college, diving for odds and ends along the reefs around Cape Cod. I wasn't really expecting to find anything, but it was a weekend diversion, and a lot more fun than sitting at home poring through books.
It was late in the afternoon and I had just made up my mind to start packing up to go home when I noticed a little boy sitting by himself not far away from me. He was sitting on a towel and idly poking a stick into the sand.
I did a quick glance-over, not really paying attention, but a minute later, I found my gaze drawn to him again.
His skin was pale, like the beach wasn't a place he frequented very often, and his build was small and slender. A mop of dark, brown hair fell around his thin face. What I noticed most of all however, was how sad he looked. Generally, kids at the beach don't look that downtrodden, but this child's determined little mouth was puckered in a deep frown and his thin shoulders were slumped dejectedly.
I glanced around for parents or siblings, but I couldn't see anyone that seemed to belong with the child. That wasn't unusual really, with so many people on the beach, but it made me wonder.
Telling myself to mind my own business, I looked around once more for overprotective mothers before standing up and approaching the kid. He didn't notice me until I sat down on the sand beside him. "Hey, are you ok?" I asked.
He looked up at me. His eyes were so huge they swallowed the rest of his face and so blue they put the ocean to shame. "Yeah, I'm fine," he sighed, leaving me in no doubt that he was not ok.
"You look really sad. Where are your parents?" I persisted.
He shrugged. "My mom went to get lunch for us. She told me to stay away from the water while she's gone 'cause I can't swim."
"What about your dad?" I asked.
"My dad... my dad died."
I blinked. I hadn't expected that. "I'm...sorry," I stammered, wishing I had stayed on my own section of beach, but at the same time wishing I could help. There was something about the child that woke a protective big brother instinct that I didn't even know I possessed. It was an odd feeling, considering I was an only child.
"Why? You didn't do anything." He looked at me curiously and I almost smiled.
"No, I'm sorry your dad died."
"Oh." He shrugged again. "It's ok, I mean he..." I watched in horror as his lower lip quivered and his big eyes filled with tears which he blinked furiously. "Um..."
"Hey, it's ok," I said helplessly, cautiously putting my hand on his shoulder. For goodness sake, I didn't even know this kid and I already had him crying! What was I thinking?!
The child rubbed at his eyes and his lips puckered in determination, and just like that, he shut off the waterworks. It was actually kind of frightening.
He swallowed hard, and fixed his azure-colored eyes on the waves crashing in and the people scurrying around on the beach. "He was coming home, from a...a business trip. The car crashed."
I bit my lip. Now that he had told me, I would probably be fully justified in going back to my diving gear and forgetting about the whole thing. Only I couldn't.
"That's tough," I said lamely. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to lose my own father. We didn't always get along, especially in the last few years when I had made it clear that I was going to find the Charlotte, but I still couldn't imagine life without him. And the fact that this child who was probably no more than six-years-old was dealing with the death of his father was heart-wrenching.
He lifted his shoulders again without saying anything. That was probably my signal to hit the road, but an idea had been forming in my mind and I decided to try it.
I let the silence grow between us for a minute before speaking.
"Have you ever looked for treasure?" I asked offhandedly. If I had asked an adult that same question they probably would have told me I was a nut. Actually, I had been told that, or a variation thereof on several occasions, so I was getting used to it. But the child simply turned his melancholy gaze to me and frowned, looking curious and confused at the same time.
"Um...no. You mean like... pirate treasure?"
"Yeah sure. Pirate treasure. Pirates used to come here all the time. It was a great place to bury treasure and resupply their ships before all these people got here. I'm sure we could find some if we look really hard. Would you like to?" I pressed.
He rubbed his nose, still frowning. "I guess so."
Not exactly the amount of enthusiasm I was looking for, but that would hopefully come later. "Ok. I know of a place we can dig, but we're going to need a bigger stick to dig with than what you've got there." I motioned to the stick he had been poking in the sand. "We need a big piece of driftwood or something."
His face brightened fractionally. "I've got a shovel. I left it with our other stuff over by the dressing rooms."
Just what I wanted to hear. "Great. You go get it, and I'll put away my diving stuff, ok?"
"Okay." He jumped up and headed up the beach toward the dressing rooms, weaving with surprising skill through the crowd.
As soon as he was out of my sight, I shoved my gear into it's bag and dug my hand into one of the side pockets. I found what I was looking for and quickly sprinted over the sand to a section of beach that was slightly less populated, but still within sight of our previous spot. There was a driftwood log and a small tree, as well as several bushes growing up from the sand, sheltering the whole area. Just the sort of place one would expect to find pirate loot.
Knowing I didn't have much time before the kid came back, I hurriedly dug a hole at one end of the log and dropped in four shiny, old coins. I had found seven of them over a year ago near this same place, and after turning them in, I had bought four of them as a keepsake. Something I didn't do very often, but I had been fairly proud of this find, and had wheedled, bribed, and cajoled my way into keeping part of it. Now, I had a far better use for it than traveling around in my bag.
I covered the coins with sand and subtly marked the place with a pebble.
The kid came back down the hill, lugging a small, fold-up shovel, five minutes after I sprinted back to my bag. "Will this work?" he asked, struggling to hold up the shovel for my inspection. He still wasn't smiling, but he looked just a tiny bit interested.
"That's just what we needed," I answered, unable to resist ruffling his brown hair. "Let's go dig over by that tree, ok?"
With a little help from me, it wasn't too long before the child unearthed the treasure. The effect was just what I had hoped for. His large eyes lit up in excitement, and his all-too-sad little mouth split in an ear-to-ear grin. "Look, look!" He shouted happily, showing me the sandy coins clutched firmly in his small hand. "I found treasure! Is it real pirate gold? Is it?"
"You bet," I answered, feeling suddenly warm all over. It was the truth, too. The coins had been identified as loot from a sunken privateer vessel when I found them, though the story behind them was anyone's guess. "I bet that some black-hearted villain hid them here right before he was knocked off by his fellow pirates for keeping more than his fair share," I said with a roguish wink at him. His mother probably would have had a fit if she heard that, but the kid's eyes just grew wider. What can I say; it's a guy thing.
"Whoa!" he breathed. "That's just like 'Treasure Island'! My dad read that to me once." Then he looked up at me. "So, can I keep 'em?" he asked hopefully.
"Sure, kid. Normally, when you find a treasure like this, you need to turn it in so that people can study it and find out where it came from. But I think in this case it'll be ok."
"Wow. Thanks a lot!" he smiled again and fingered the coins, carefully brushing the sand off of them. It was worth every cent I had spent getting those coins to see that kid's face light up in a smile. I couldn't fix the fact that his father was gone and that he would have a long, painful time ahead of him, but I was glad I had been able to brighten his day. Judging by the crooked smile and the excited sparkle in those blue eyes, I had managed to brighten his day quite a lot.
A minute later, his head snapped up and he looked back the way we had come. A small, brown-haired young woman was looking around a little frantically and had obviously just called out a name that I hadn't caught, but the child had heard.
"Oh geez." He winced. "My mom's back. She doesn't know where I am. I gotta go!" he started to run across the beach toward the woman and then hesitated. "Thanks a lot!" he called with a wave. "Thanks for helping me find treasure. It was really cool!"
I waved back, pulling my diving bag onto my shoulder, and feeling very pleased with myself. "See ya around, kid."
AN/ I've never quite made up my mind as to what I think Riley's past was like. Part of me likes the idea that I've read in other stories, that he had a rather rough childhood. And the other part of me thinks that that particular idea is overused, and that a guy like Riley should have been part of a loving, happy family. So I settled for something in between— happy family, struck by tragedy. ;) That's not to say I might not do a Riley story in future going the other way, but I thought I'd point that out...
Twenty years later...
"Hey Riley, are you hungry?" Ben asked as he taped up another box, rolling his neck tiredly. The treasure-hunter had finally convinced his young friend to move out of the one-bedroom apartment he had been living in since college and into something a little bigger, and closer to where he and Abigail lived.
The young tech was glad of the change in scenery, but he had agreed to the plan only on the condition that Ben would help him pack his cluttered belongings. As a result, the two friends were up late, boxing up the last of Riley's stuff to load in Ben's truck and take to the new house.
Riley yawned and set his latest box on top of the pile. "Uh-uh. You're not getting out of it, Ben. We are getting the rest of this stuff tonight," he said firmly. "This was your idea, and neither food nor thought of sleep shall detour me."
Ben growled. "You failed to mention just how much stuff you had crammed into this place." He moved to one more cluttered shelf and began filling another box.
"You had been here before," Riley defended. "And besides, you should have thought of that before you agreed to this. I told you the reason I hadn't moved yet was all this junk."
Ben just growled again. It was after midnight. He was tired and they hadn't taken a break for dinner. If he couldn't distract Riley with food then he was doomed.
Riley threw him an obnoxious smile. "Don't tell me that Benjamin Franklin Gates is daunted by a pile of unorganized debris!" he teased. "Isn't that right up your alley? You never know what you might find in here." As if to prove his point, the young man thrust his hand behind a bookshelf that they hadn't moved yet and came out with a framed picture, a USB cord, and an orphan sock. "Huh, been wondering where that was," he muttered to himself, not specifying which item he meant.
"I don't recall ever hunting for treasure at 12:45am, on an empty stomach." Ben protested from the other side of the room.
"Oh come on," Riley argued. "I'll bet you stayed up late all the time when you were hunting for the Charlotte. Doing research and such." He broke off to stare at an unidentifiable pile of something that had been growing under the bookshelf he had just cleared and moved. "Wonder what that was…" He shrugged and pulled the bookshelf over to the door where they could easily haul it out to the truck. "And whining about food is my thing," he continued to chatter, hoping to tease his friend into a better mood.
When Ben didn't respond, Riley glanced up and noticed that Ben wasn't listening. He was standing beneath a recently cleared shelf, staring at something cupped in his hand. The treasure-hunter was frowning in concentration and completely oblivious to the fact that Riley had ceased talking for a moment.
"Ben, if it's a cockroach, just kill it, ok? Don't get attached." Riley ignored his friend's silence and continued picking up odds and ends on the floor and throwing them haphazardly into a box. "I mean, I know you and Abigail need a pet, but wouldn't a dog be more-"
"Hey Riley," Ben interrupted in a distant tone that Riley rarely heard. "Where did you get these?"
The older man opened his hand and showed Riley the objects he had been looking at. Four antique-looking coins.
Riley smiled. Not his usual sarcastic, teasing smile, but a real, genuine, happy smile. "I was six," he explained, thinking back on the event. "I had just lost my dad, and my mom took me to the beach a few days after the funeral. I guess she was hoping it would help both of us. Anyway, this guy sitting near me noticed I was sad, and he asked me if I had ever looked for pirate treasure. And then he helped me find those. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure he set the whole thing up, but I didn't know it then. And it really did help me feel better, you know. Took my mind off things."
Ben was still staring at the coins in his hand and a small smile began to quirk his lips. "I'm glad," he said quietly.
Riley looked at his friend in confusion. The man was acting a little weird. He knew Ben was tired, but it wasn't like Ben had never seen antique coins before. He had seen piles of them.
"Uh, Ben? You need some caffeine or something, dude?" Riley waved his hand in front of Ben's face.
Ben shook his head and finally looked back up at Riley, a smile still playing at his mouth. "A lot of things change in twenty years or so, don't they?"
Riley blinked in bewilderment for a moment and then suddenly looked closely at Ben. "No way…" he murmured. "That was you?"
"It was," Ben answered. "I didn't know that was you until now. I had almost forgotten about it." He shook his head wonderingly. "I never thought that little kid would turn out to be my best friend someday."
Riley grinned. "Sort of fueled my interest in treasure hunting at an early age, didn't you?"
Ben smiled and handed the coins to Riley, still a little shocked to learn that he had met his young friend earlier than he had first thought. "I guess so. Wow."
Still grinning mischievously, Riley's eyes narrowed. "Although, I must say, lying to a little kid like that, Ben. Tsk, tsk," he clicked his tongue in mock disapproval. "I could have been scarred for life. I already needed counseling."
Ben took the bait. "Hey, I didn't lie. It really was pirate gold. It was just second-hand pirate gold."
Riley rolled his eyes. "How cheap can you get?"
Ben threw a couch pillow, hitting Riley squarely in the chest. "So much for gratitude," he teased.
The two friends went back to packing. They were nearly done, and by now even Riley was ready for bed and food. He blinked sleepily. "How about Dairy Queen on the way home?" he mumbled through another yawn.
"You want ice-cream at this time of night?" Ben asked incredulously, picking up a box and wrestling the door open to take it to the truck. Once Riley came out with the last few things, they could hit the road.
Riley was still busy taping one of the last boxes. "Ben, it is never too late for ice-cream," he stated matter-of-factly. "Besides that, it will keep you awake for the drive home."
"Ok. You win. Dairy Queen it is. Just don't tell Abigail." Ben warned his friend, before sliding out the door with the box. "I'm gonna start the car. You got the rest?"
"Yep. Be out in a minute," Riley said, silently fighting with the duct tape.
A few minutes later, the two friends were sipping milkshakes and enjoying the city lights as they drove through the night. Ben knew Riley would probably fall asleep as soon as he finished his ice cream.
"Hey Ben?" Riley said suddenly.
"Um, you bought them." Ben nodded toward the milkshake in Riley's hand.
Riley shook his head. "No. I mean, thanks for the coins when I was little, and... just... for being such a good friend all these years."
The statement took Ben off guard, and for a minute, he was tempted to tease his friend about being tired enough to get sentimental. But instead he reached over and gently squeezed Riley's shoulder. "You're welcome, Riley. You're a good friend too. I couldn't ask for better."