The moonlight was the only source of light of the hot spring, but the beauty of the blue waters still stands out. The steaming water was formed by the massive stones around it in an erratic round shape. Before it, were soaring cherry blossom and plum trees. It was so solemn and peaceful; like I’d escaped from real world to somewhere like a fantasy. Who would have thought that there was a place like this in Portland?
Lydia made me wore an all-white Kimono, but I knew that there would be no use of it anymore since I’m taking them off to bath in an open field. I pulled the kimono off my shoulders and let it drop on the wooden floor. I stepped a foot in the hot water and slowly went down. I blew out a breath of relief, shutting my eyes as the soothing warm water touched my skin. I walked slowly to the center then soaked my body in water.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Brandon’s seductive voice spoke behind me. I felt his hand clasped my shoulders, his bare skin touching back, making me realize that he wasn’t wearing anything. I gasped.
“Y-yes. It’s very beautiful.” My throat was suddenly in need of a drink.
“Do you want me to let you bath alone?”
“I um...” I swallowed. “You said we are going to talk. I know that you’ve been keeping something from me and I want you to tell me what’s going on—”
I spun around then looked up at him, to my surprise, my jaw dropped. “Oh my God...” I stopped for a moment, cupping my mouth instantaneously. My stomach twisted as if burning from the strange sensation I couldn’t explain. I shivered on the under the warm water. Brandon’s expression was wounded, dark even. His eyes were deep and dangerous.
My knees abruptly felt frail, my jaws were shuddering as if I was going to sink under the water at any second. Brandon’s bare face appeared in front of me.
“Y-your… Your mask,” I mouthed. “You took off your mask.” It wasn’t a question. I swiftly tore my gaze away. My heart was thudding incoherently, realizing that wouldn’t be able to bear seeing him like this, though his face was even now imprinted in my brain. I was too surprised!
It was dreadful. The skin on the right side of his face was dead red. The scar was mostly from the burn. He also had deep scars like his face was sliced numerous times. The cut began from the top of his eyebrow down his cheeks. He didn’t even have an eyebrow! There was no pinch of flesh left on that particular side and the slough wound didn’t seem to heal like it was always fresh.
“Even myself can’t look at my face in the mirror,” he croaked.
I swallowed hard, “It’s not like that. I’m just surprised. You didn’t warn me.” I still couldn’t look at it. It looked so painful. I didn’t notice that I was already crying until I felt my tears streamed down my cheeks. I sniveled.
“I’m sorry, Alayna. This monstrous side of my face scared you.”
“It... it’s not that I’m scared. Why does it look fresh?” I said, still refusing to look at his face, but his chest, “Why didn’t you want it to be healed? Why did you wait for it to look like that?” I wiped away the tears from my cheeks.
“I understand if you can’t look at me. I’m even terrified of my face,” he matter-of-factly said.
“Whoever did this to you is evil,” I began to sob hard. My knees failed me. I wasn’t disgusted nor frightened of him, but the sight of it would make anyone lose their strength. Brandon caught me swiftly, then I slowly gazed up at him—to face him. I’m prepared to look at him and that was because I love him. I was ready to see the real face of Brandon Lucien, again. But he already set back his white mask on.
“I won’t blame you if you don’t want me anymore because of this,” he said. “I hated myself because of this monster.”
I stared at him, “No. My feelings won’t change even it was your whole face. You are right. You can’t just let them go for they did to you.”
Brandon smirked, “I can’t if I’m still like this. You see? I am not confident enough.”
“Whoever they are who did this to you, they have to pay for it. How—how could they do something so evil? How could someone stomach to do this to a person? You are their flesh and blood, if they were your relatives,” I wept. “They’re not even human to do this.”
Brandon hushed, “Alayna… You need to calm down.”
“How can I calm down?” I exclaimed. I cupped both his face. “Why did you let them do this to you and hide from the whole world for a long time?”
His brows furrowed, “Are you mad at me right now?”
“Yes! I am very mad. If only I was there that time I wouldn’t let you hide and we will get justice for you. They literally killed you and your family. Why didn’t you fight?”
Brandon pulled me closer, enfolding his arms around my bare body, squeezing me so tight. I couldn’t breathe, he felt really hard—it was too much. My nipples were erecting and it was poking his unclothed skin. I abruptly felt blood rushed to my cheeks. I don’t know if he felt it.
“I think I already told you why I had to hide,” he reminded. He was referring to his psychalgia. “and yes, it would be different if you were there because it won’t take me this long to retrieve myself. This is why I’m going to tell you this.”
His hands moved to my shoulders, “Listen to me very carefully…”
I blinked, gazing up at him. I swallowed hard.
“I have to go back home and get some treatment.”
“What?” I murmured.
“You are right. I can’t be like this forever. I have to go and make a difference in my life. It was so hard for me to tell this to you because I don’t want to leave you but I have to—”
“Wait!” I stopped his mouth with my finger. “You are leaving? To Greece?”
“Yes,” his eyes low-spirited and worried. “I couldn’t protect you if I’m like this. You don’t know how badly I wanted you, but I can’t be with you if I’m like this.”
“I… I don’t understand,” I scowled. “Why do you have to leave? You are most in danger if you go back home.”
“Everything is already planned. I cannot waste any more time, Alayna. What happened today isn’t just an ordinary incident for me. They already did it once and I lost my family. I cannot afford to lose you or Oliver or his family.”
“You were just young back then. You didn’t know,” I said painfully, fearing the fact that I wouldn’t see him for a long time.
“Yes, but now I am old enough to know what to do. I will protect the people I love. This is why I’m choosing this. I have to leave.”
“Oh my God,” I backed away from him. “This isn’t happening. Why do I have a feeling that you are leaving me for a long time?”
“Because I am. I’m going to leave for a year. You can still stay at my house and do your job even if I’m not there—”
“Do you even know what you’re doing?” I snapped. “How could I do my job if the Master isn’t there?” God, what was I fighting for? You suggested this to him. I thought you wanted him to heal? Why are you protesting now, Alayna? I debated with myself.
“Even if I wanted you to come with me, I can’t risk it. You’re going to be in danger, just like what happened today. Ollie’s fiancée’s phone was stolen and the sender tried to lure you away from me, to tear us apart,” he said realistically. “You don’t know now how I felt when I thought I’m going to lose you.”
“Who do you think it was? The sender.”
He sighed. He looked at the waters and frowned, “I know John, but he wouldn’t have stopped the car if he was behind it, but I can’t be so sure. It could be one of the workers in the house or worse, it could be Betty.”
I shook my head, “I don’t know, but I trust Oliver. He chose her to be his future wife and she’s so kind to everyone. She lost her phone. I doubt that it was her, Brandon. It could be one of the workers inside the house.”
“Whoever it is, I can’t afford to lose you again and I don’t want it to happen again. After this night, Cassius is going to come here and he will take you back to Manhattan,” he said.
“Cassius? Is this why I’ve been hearing his name all day? And what are you saying? Why am I going home with him? Aren’t you coming with me? Are you sending me away already?”
“I am not sending you away. It’s for your safety. Cassius is the only person who could protect you for now. Oliver would not leave Betty. She could be in danger, too.”
“I thought you did not trust him?” My tone reached an octave.
“I trust him now. He’s going to be my doctor. Alayna, listen to me very carefully...” He pressed a kiss on my forehead. “I’m going to see you at home. I promise. Just let Cassius take you home for now.”
“I still don’t understand,” I shook my head. “Why are you telling this to me just now? I didn’t know that you’re going away for a year and you are already plotting of what I’m going to do while you’re away. I thought this was a vacation. Is this what this so-called trip means? You are going to leave me and you’re going to let your cousin take me home instead of you? Don’t you think I didn’t notice how you and Ollie talked behind my back the entire time?”
“Alayna, I don’t mean anything. I couldn’t tell you because I don’t want to ruin the day. I can’t tell you before because you might not want to come here with me,” he sighed. “God, this is too complicated.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing right now. “What’s the difference of telling me before and now? Can’t you just take your treatment in New York? Why do you have to go to where everyone wants to kill you? This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t have come here with you!” I threw him a glare before I spun around and strolled back to the house.