That night I couldn’t sleep. Images of that beautiful, delicate woman kept flashing before my eyes, making my mind whirl with ideas and curiosity. Who was that woman? And why were the floors seven and above prohibited? I was sure about one thing, though, that woman in the picture was related to the Maslows. But who was she?
After a few hours, my body finally succumbed to the bouts of sleep; however, my mind did not stop working—coming up with one scenario or the other regarding the mystery behind the top floors. Whatever it was I was going to figure it out, I would just have to be really sneaky about it.
Morning came and Gideon greeted me good morning by sinking his length deep inside of me. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I never expected to be woken up in the way I did this morning. I was glad that I had opened my eyes to see who it was that was shagging me in my sleep, before punching that someone, who turned out to be Gideon, to my utter relief; otherwise I would’ve been at the receiving end of Gideon’s wrath while he would’ve been sporting a nice, big bruise on his face.
“Why did you have sex with me first thing in the morning?” I asked Gideon over breakfast.
“I’m trying to get you pregnant, the sooner you get pregnant the better,” he answered bluntly, cutting his sandwich with a knife and eating it with a fork. I was starting to wonder whether the Maslows were royalty or not, they certainly acted like it. The staff referred to Gideon as ‘Sir’ and me as ‘Malady’, which if I wasn’t wrong were terms used for royalty; not to mention the way Gideon was eating a bloody sandwich—with a fork and a knife!
However, his response cut deep. Not because it was the cold, hard truth, but because Gideon’s answer made me feel like I was nothing more than a baby making machine. I mean, yeah, we got married only because I was required to provide Gideon with an heir but the guy did not have to treat me like a machine, I was human, I had feelings.
“I’m sure if you have random sex with me it won’t get me pregnant any faster,” I said to him, trying to make conversation, the man did not talk much.
Gideon threw me a look. “Don’t argue with me,” he stated.
Well then, so much for making conversation. Maybe having sex in the morning did not bode well for his mood.
After breakfast, Gideon quickly left for work, but not before telling me that I could contact Kieran in order to talk to my brother by using the landline, I just had to press the number 4 and I would automatically be directed to Kieran. I smiled after hearing that; even though Gideon was cold and ruthless most of the times, he still had a soft spot for people—or was it only me I wasn’t sure—and he occasionally gave me a glimpse of that softer side, by doing these little things for me.
Once Gideon walked out of the castle closing the door behind him, my gaze immediately darted to the stairs. Now was the perfect time as any to go exploring in the forbidden territory, I just hoped I wouldn’t get caught. But first I had to talk to my brother.
Quickly picking up a nearby cordless phone, I pressed the number 4 and placed the phone against my ear. After four consistent rings I was starting to think that maybe Kieran wouldn’t pick up, but after a couple of more rings he finally did.
“Hello, Kieran, it’s me, Alice,” I said to him.
“Little Mushroom, how are you?” Kieran asked,
“How many times should I tell you not to call me that,” I said irritably.
“You can tell me a thousand times and I’ll still call you Little Mushroom,” he responded. I could hear the smirk in his voice.
Forcing myself not to hurl profanities at him, I took a deep breath. “Where is Nico?” I asked Kieran instead.
“Watching TV,” he answered.
“You shouldn’t let him watch so much TV, it’s not good for him,” I admonished him.
“Well it’s either TV or going outside to play, take your pick,” he responded drily.
“Don’t you have any board games?” These people were so boring.
“What am I, seven years old? No I don’t have any bloody board games,” he muttered.
“Well go buy some, what is all that money good for, throwing at strippers?!” I was really starting to hate Gideon’s idea about Nico staying with Kieran for the next two weeks.
“God you’re annoying,” Kieran whined.
“Go buy some board games for Nico, he likes to play Risk and Monopoly the most, Ludo is fine too,” I ordered Kieran.
“And who is he going to play with, his imaginary friends?” Now I really wanted to bang my head against the wall.
“No, you wanker, he’s going to play with you,” I gritted out.
“Careful, little mushroom, I might not be so nice if you continue insulting me,” Kieran warned.
“Well then don’t give me the chance to continuously insult you, go and buy some board games for Nico and put him on the phone, I want to talk to him,” I told him.
I heard some sort of rustling noise before Nico came on the line. “Hello?” Nico said.
“Hi, Nico, it’s me, Alice,” I told him, relieved to hear my brother’s voice.
“Hi, Alice, how are you, how is Gideon?” Nico asked.
“I’m fine, buddy, Gideon’s fine, too, how are you?” It had only been twenty four hours since I last saw Nico and yet it felt like months.
“I’m good, Kieran has a really big house,” he told me.
“That’s great, Nic, what are you doing?” I already knew what he was doing but I still asked, for the sake of conversation.
“I’m watching TV, Kieran and I made snacks earlier, he is a really good cook,” he responded happily.
“Healthy snacks, right?” I would kill Kieran if he fed my brother junk food.
“Yes, vegetable sandwiches, they were delicious,” he told me, my heart instantly relaxing.
“Good, that’s good,” I said.
“You know, Alice, Kieran told me that Gideon is looking for a good doctor who will perform my surgery,” Nico informed me.
My mind couldn’t believe what Nico had said. Gideon was looking for a cardiologist for Nico’s surgery? Even though it was not his problem, he was still looking for a good doctor for my brother.
At the moment, all the negative things I thought about Gideon evaporated into wisps of nothingness, leaving behind only the positive traits. No longer did it matter to me that Gideon was cold, blunt, distant and arrogant. The only thing that mattered was that even though it was none of his concern, he was still searching for a cardiologist, and that made me respect him a hundred times more than I already did.
“Are you sure, Nic?” I wanted to make sure that Kieran was not lying to Nico.
“Yes, Kieran told me, you can ask him yourself,” Nico responded.
“Can you put him on?” I requested Nico.
“Sure.” There was that rustling sound again before Kieran came back on the line.
“What’s up, little mushroom?” Kieran spoke up.
“Is it true that Gideon is searching for a cardiologist for Nico?” I enquired.
“Yes,” he responded.
“Are you sure? You’re not lying to me, are you?” God, I would throw something if Kieran told me that he was joking.
“Little mushroom, how cruel do you think we are? Just because we sort of ganged up on you when you were rejecting my brother’s proposal doesn’t mean we would play some sort of a sick joke on you by lying to you about your brother’s surgery. It’s highly insulting that you would think so low of us,” Kieran said.
A stab of guilt shot straight to my heart at hearing his words. Kieran was right, I should not judge them so quickly. Gideon had already given me so much, I should smack myself for thinking like this about my husband.
“I—I’m sorry, Kieran, I shouldn’t have said all that,” I apologized.
“I know you’re used to being independent and not used to people helping you, but little mushroom, now you can relax and let Gideon shoulder some of the burden, let him help you,” Kieran told me softly.
I wish it was that easy. I wish it was that easy to accept help from others. But the truth was, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be okay with others helping me, simply because I did not want to get used to it. Gideon and I were only going to be together for a year and I could not get used to sharing my burden with him, because then it would all come to end, and then going back to my waitressing job and facing the world all by myself would be difficult.
However, I did not let Kieran know about all this. It was my problem, and I was going to handle it on my own.
“I’ll try,” I told him.
“Good, trust me, it won’t be difficult, right now you are married to one of the richest man on the planet, all your wishes will come true, all you have to do is say the words,” Kieran stated.
And what about when I wouldn’t be married to one of the richest man on the planet? What then? What was the point of enjoying the life of luxury when we all knew it would soon come to an end? I could not be stupid enough to turn a blind eye to my financial status just because God had blessed me with money for my brother’s surgery. And once Nico had his surgery, I would use the other fifty thousand pounds for his education. I would not let Nico stress over the monetary problems. I would give Nico the future he deserved.
“Yes, thank you, Kieran, and I’m sorry about doubting you,” I told him sincerely.
“No problem, little mushroom, now I got to go and buy board games for Nico,” he said.
“Okay, and make sure you give him his medicines on time, take care, bye.”
“Bye.” He hung up.
I put the phone back on the cradle, satisfied that my brother was alright and was enjoying himself, I set about on my other task: going up to the seventh floor.
I waited for a few hours after I had talked to Kieran and Nico to go upstairs. The maids were bustling about everywhere, and I knew if one of them caught me sneaking upstairs I would be in trouble.
So I waited.
The wait was excruciating. I felt that the time was moving extra slow. Every time I glanced at the clock, the minute hand had only moved from one digit to the next, never skipping any number.
Four hours later, the maids eventually retired to their quarters for their lunch break. It was now afternoon, the hour and minute hands pointing at twelve. Suzy had informed me that the cooks will come and prepare lunch as soon as their lunch break ended which was at 1:00 pm, which meant I had only one hour to explore the seventh floor.
Taking a deep breath, I quickly jogged over to the flights of stairs, not stopping until I landed on the fourth floor. There, I paused, trying to catch my breath. I swear, if it had not been for the time being my enemy I wouldn’t be standing here gasping for breath.
My eyes found the clock, the minute hand now pointing at one. The good thing about this castle was that there were clocks on every floor, and not just any clocks, huge clocks which could be seen from far away.
Great, five minutes had already passed, which left me with fifty five minutes. I would not be able to do a lot of exploring in fifty five minutes; make that fifty minutes, I needed five minutes to get back downstairs as well.
Resuming my journey up the stairs after two minutes, I climbed up the fifth floor and then the sixth floor, making sure to keep looking over my shoulder to make sure I was not being followed; I was no mood of explaining myself to anyone, least of all to that older maid whatever her name was.
Just as I reached the sixth floor, I stopped once again to catch my breath. Glancing at the great clock, my heart started pounding when I saw the minute hand pointing at two. Shit! Forty five minutes to go.
My anticipation mounted as I prepared myself to go to the seventh floor. The floor that held so many secrets in it and above it. The floor that was prohibited to all staff and family members alike. The floor that bathed this castle in mystery.
I was glad that I had chosen this moment to explore. No one had followed me and for the next forty five minutes I could explore in peace; find out why the floors seven and above were forbidden. All I had to do was to find some sort of a clue.
However, when I turned to go up the stairs, my eyes widened in shock while rage exploded within me.
All my hard work went to waste. All the energy I had gained during breakfast was lost. Fury unfurled inside of me when I saw what stood before me.
It was a gate. A big, steel gate standing at the entrance of the staircase that led to the seventh floor. It had a grid structure, with each steel bar two centimeters thick. There was no padlock or a key hole that indicated where one was supposed to put the key in. But there was an electronic keypad placed in the middle of the left side.
When I saw the gate, I cursed every person living in this castle to hell and back. I screamed in utter frustration at what was now quite obvious.
The entrance to the seventh floor was locked.