Staring at the photograph for a few minutes, I looked at every single detail. The photograph was colored, which meant it was from this century. The lady looked to be very young, no older than 17, and was standing next to a woman—probably a friend since they looked to be about the same age. She was wearing a very pretty baby pink gown with a gorgeous matching hat. Her friend was wearing a green gown with a matching hat. I flipped the photograph to see whether there was a name written of who was in the photograph—usually there was—but the backside was blank.
Putting the photograph back inside the diary, I flipped through the contents of the book but found nothing. It was the blank, empty, not a single word or even a drop of ink was present in the diary. I thought there might at least be a name telling me who this diary belonged to, but no, the whole journal was empty.
Not giving up, I put the empty journal back on the shelf and took out a couple of other journals. Quickly flipping through them I was disappointed as they were empty, just like the first one. Checking out a few other journals but finding them empty, I sighed in disappointment. Other than the photograph, there was nothing about the woman. Somebody had obviously worked hard to hide her...or maybe erase her.
Glancing at the clock, my heart jumped in my throat when I saw it was 1:30 pm. It was almost lunch time and if Gideon found me over here, he was not going to be happy. Deciding to come down here some other time, I dusted my hands and went upstairs to the sixth floor; however, my mind was still stuck to the fifth floor. There was no way I was giving up on finding about that woman. I had one year to figure out who she was; 365 days to find out the truth.
Jogging over to a random shelf on the sixth floor, I plucked a random book and sat down on the fluffy cushion which was right next to the shelf. The title of the book told me that it was a book about plants, boring. I didn’t like studying about plants, they bored me to death. Even when I was in high school, I prayed that the chapter on plants would be over soon so we could move on to the human body, I liked the human body much better than plants.
However, I decided to read the book anyways; not because I had developed a sudden interest in various green plants, but because if somebody came looking for me, they’ll see me reading a book on plants, and not rifling through the archives like bee on a mission. Maybe I’d go down to the archives and search more about the mystery lady. I knew she was related to the Maslows, that much was obvious from her features. But what kind of a relationship did she exactly have? And why was there no sign of her, other than the portrait in the circular room and the photograph down in the archives? Was she dead? I hoped not, she had to be alive.
“Mrs. Maslow.” I jumped at hearing the sudden voice. Raising my head from the book I saw none other then Helga standing a few feet away from me. Great, no other maid could come.
“Yes, Helga?” I tried to be polite, and tried very hard. I did not like this woman.
“Lunch is ready and Mr. Maslow is requesting your presence,” she told me.
“Okay, I’ll be down in a couple of minutes, thank you.” I smiled at her.
“No, you come with me now,” she said.
“Helga, I said I’ll be in the dining room in a couple of minutes,” I repeated.
“No, you must come with me now, you should not make Mr. Maslow wait, he is your husband.” And now I really did not like her. Just because she was the head housekeeper did not mean she was my boss and could tell me what to do.
Yes, but you must do what she says or Gideon is going to be upset with you. There is no way Gideon would listen to what you have to say when it comes to his loyal maid and her loyal words, so don’t waste your words and just follow the old hag to the dining room. It was one of those rare times when my subconscious was right and chose to be supportive.
Closing the book with a sigh, I stood up and slid the book back in its place. Dusting myself a bit to make sure there was not a speck of dirt on me so no one would get suspicious, I gestured for Helga to lead the way. She turned and strode out of the library with me following behind. Helga kept looking back periodically to make sure I was following her, but did not utter a single word which I was grateful for. I couldn’t stand her ordering me to obey Gideon like the women in the 70s.
When we entered the dining room, I walked towards Gideon who was sitting in his usual place swiping away on his cell phone. Taking my seat next to him, I put a spoonful of stew on my plate, then put some salad next to the stew. I didn’t say anything to Gideon, I figured he was too busy as he hadn’t looked up from his phone once since I entered the dining room.
Stabbing the chicken with my fork I begun eating, my mind coming up with one explanation after the other about the lady. It was confusing that these people would go to such lengths to hide the existence of one person and yet they did not get rid of all the evidence; it was like they wanted to erase this person from the world but they couldn’t. But at the end of the day, the question still remained, just who was that woman?
It would be wonderful if Gideon decided to go on a business trip or something, I would then spend the whole day in the archives and try to find something about the mystery woman by reading someone else’s journals, because her journals were blank. There should’ve at least been a name, like in Julia’s journals, but no her journals were brand new.
Why don’t you give this mystery girl a name, you can’t call her Mystery Woman in the Portrait forever. My subconscious suggested.
I agreed with her but what could I call her. She was delicate and looked like one of those royal princesses who did nothing but looked at shiny jewelry all day. She was pretty, though; maybe I could name her after a flower, it would be easier.
Maybe I should call her Rose, because she was pretty and was wearing a pink gown; or maybe I should call her Daisy, since she looked so delicate; or maybe Lily was the perfect name for now for her, since she looked so pure. Yeah, maybe Lily was perfect. I would call her Lily until I found out her real name.
Satisfied that I had gotten the name for the mystery girl, my mind switched to the metal gate on the sixth floor staircase and the keypad. I needed to be sneaky about that keypad, and I needed to figure out what the passcode was, but first I had to check how many digits were needed in order to unlock the gate.
“Huh, what?” I looked at Gideon who was giving me a strange look. “Gideon, I’m sorry did you say something?” I did not want Gideon to be suspicious of my activities.
“Yes, but it looks like you’re preoccupied with something, is everything okay?” He asked with a hint of concern in his voice.
I nodded frantically. “Yes, yes, everything is fine, I was just...thinking about...something that I read in the library,” I told him. I knew Gideon wouldn’t rest until I told him what I was thinking about, and since I couldn’t tell him the actual reason I was lost, I decided to go with the half-truth.
“Oh? What did you read?” I knew he was going to ask that.
“About...plants...they are so fascinating; don’t you think?” I couldn’t believe I was going to have a conversation on plants.
“I guess so.” Gideon gave me a quizzical look. “But if plants are what has your mind so occupied, why don’t you write about them,” he said.
Now it was my turn to give him a quizzical look. “What? What do you mean?”
Gideon shrugged. “It’s sort of a...Maslow thing...everybody in the family writes.”
“Write, like a journal?” So writing was a tradition, no wonder everybody had shelves full of journals here.
Gideon nodded. “Exactly that, every member of the family pens down his or her thoughts in a journal, I suggest you should do the same thing,” he told me.
“But, I’m not exactly family, I’m only here for a year...” I trailed off, not knowing what else to say.
“You’re family for now.” Came a new voice. I turned my head to see Brenton, Gideon’s youngest brother, entering the dining room. I hadn’t seen him since our wedding, I wondered where he was.
“How much of that did you hear?” I enquired.
“Enough to know that I agree with my brother.” Brenton took a seat across from me next to Gideon. “Gideon, why don’t you order a journal for her, I guess a small one,” Brenton said.
“A small one?” Did the journals come in sizes? The ones I saw in the archives were big and thick ones.
“Yeah, one with 365 pages, since the contract is only for a year,” Brenton informed me. These people were so matter-of-fact it was crazy. They talked in facts, like the contracts and facts were set in stone and nothing could change them. Like, if my contract with Gideon was for a year, then nothing could change that. But a lot of things could change that. If I died in the next couple of months, then they contract would be over, if I was unable to give Gideon an heir then the contract would be terminated before a year...so many possibilities.
“I’ll call the paper company in a couple of hours and give them the order to have the journal delivered by tomorrow so she can start writing,” Gideon said.
“Wait, I don’t want to write, my stuff is personal, what if somebody read it?” If Gideon insisted on me writing, then I would make sure not to write about Lily, I couldn’t trust the people in this castle, especially that old hag, Helga.
“Don’t worry, the journal would have a lock on it. And if it didn’t, I assure you that no one is going to read your journal, not me not anyone else, it’s your journal and only you are going to have the right to see it,” Gideon replied.
“Oh, what if I still don’t want to write?” I queried.
“You don’t have a choice, you are a Maslow now, even if you’re just a temporary Maslow you still are a Maslow, and it’s a family thing, so I’m afraid you are going to have to write, even if you don’t want to,” Brenton informed me.
“Are you okay with a standard hardback journal or would you like a customized one?” Gideon questioned.
I shrugged. “I’m okay with whatever, I just have to write in it, I don’t care about the look of the journal,” I answered.
Nothing much was said after that. Gideon and Brenton discussed business while I finished my lunch. The thought of writing a journal made me feel kind of nervous, I didn’t know why. I never written in a diary before, so writing down my thoughts and secrets was alien to me, since I was used to mulling things in my mind whether good or bad, I didn’t know if writing was a good thing or a bad one.
Once I was finished eating, I excused myself from Gideon and Brenton, eager to go to my room and think more about Lily and the passcode and the prospect of me writing in a journal.
As soon as I exited the dining room, I heard their voice loud and clear. Curious, I decided to listen in on their conversation. I had no intention to eavesdrop, but my curiosity got the best of me.
“Why is there a gate on the sixth floor staircase?” Brenton asked Gideon.
“Alice accidentally went up there, so I had a gate installed in case she decided to go up there again,” Gideon told him.
“Well how am I supposed to go up there and see her now?” Brenton questioned.
What the hell? Brenton was allowed to go up there and I wasn’t. And who did he want to see? Lily in the picture? He wanted to go up there and look at a portrait?
“I’ll give you the passcode, just use it and go see her, but do it when Alice is not there, she is a curious one and I don’t want her tangled in something that is of no concern to her,” Gideon said.
That was not fair, Brenton got the passcode and I didn’t. Oh please, God, please let Gideon yell out the passcode so I could get it, please. And who was he to decide what was my concern and what wasn’t. I might be his wife for a year but that did not mean he had sort of a territorial right over me, I was my own person; I decided what I would and wouldn’t concern myself with.
“You do know it’s only a month away,” Brenton said to Gideon. I frowned in confusion. What was a month away? Brenton’s birthday? Their father’s birthday? Somebody’s death anniversary?
“I know, we’ll go to the cemetery together,” Gideon said. So it was somebody’s death anniversary, but whose?
“Sure, let’s go and work on that contract, I’ll call my client and set up a meeting,” Brenton said.
The scraping sound of chairs being pushed back was my cue to leave. Taking the stairs two at a time, I reached my bedroom in no time. Closing the door behind me, I took a deep breath, my mind a jumbled mess. This family had a lot of secrets.
And I intended to uncover all of them.