The Man in The Mansion

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Gift from a friend

That Friday, while Edmund was at the vet with Fluffers, Ava made her way into Edmund’s study and settled into the chair for a nice reading session. She made herself some fancy tea in a fancy cup and she had planned on reading some of the classics that Edmund had on his shelf. She ran her hand over the many books before choosing one; all of the books she owned were either gifts or she’d stolen them from teachers over the course of her school years. She hadn’t been able to buy many books recently due to bills and other expenses such as groceries, car payments, and like every millennial in this day and age, student loans. She’d dropped out of college after 2 years, but she’d unfortunately used enough of the government’s money to put her in debt to them. Luckily, she didn’t mind rereading the same book over and over, so it didn’t bother her much. She hadn’t realized how cold Edmund kept his study until she caught herself shiver; she pulled the small blanket from the top of the chair and draped it over herself as she continued to read. He must keep in cold so he could wear his suits without overheating and while she did admit he looked mighty fine in a suit, she wondered if he owned anything other than fancy suits. She tried to imagine him in jeans and a t-shirt, but it only made him look like a golf player whose wife cheats on him with the pool boy; she chuckled.

She glanced over to the desk and its contents. The laptop that Edmund was usually hunched over in the dark like a hobbit was shut; there was neat stack of papers next to the laptop which Ava assumed was a manuscript. Ava hadn’t realized but there was a small frame with a picture on the corner of the desk of Edmund and the kids. There were two other people that Ava assumed was Ed’s brother Edwin and his wife considering Edmund and the other man looked exactly alike except the man was wearing the ugliest Christmas sweater Ava’s ever seen while grinning from ear to ear while Edmund was wearing a simple suit (no surprise there) with a gentle smile on his face. Ava marked her page (with a scrap of paper instead of dog-earing the page because she’s not a heathen) and got up to look closer at the picture. As she picked it up, she noticed they were in front of the fireplace in the living room. The pure joy that emitted from the photo warmed Ava’s heart; she hadn’t seen a Christmas picture with this much joy and love in it since she was younger. Every one of the Christmas pictures with Ava in it since then screamed “The older sister in this picture is super depressed and wishes she were dead!” but her family always insisted “it wouldn’t be the perfect picture without her in it”.

“You’re quite the curious type aren’t you?” Edmund said from behind her making her freak out and nearly falling into the desk. Luckily, Edmund caught her, again.

“That’s it; the first chance I get, I’m getting you a bell.” Ava said. Edmund chuckled and helped her straighten up.

“I didn’t mean to scare you, I assumed you heard me come into the room.” He said. He glanced at the photo that she had held onto despite being startled.

“Ah, so that’s what piqued your curiosity. May I?” He asked holding his hand out. Ava handed him the photo and as he examined it a reminiscent smiled appeared on his face.

“This was our first Christmas together. I had just adopted Katie and Ben a couple months prior and I’d had taken Danny and Jo in that March. Edwin and Guinevere had come over and as you can see, my brother had chosen the worst sweater he could find. Luckily, Guinevere had convinced him to take off his lab coat.” Edmund explained.

“Why was he wearing a lab coat on Christmas?” Ava asked with a slight chuckle.

“My brother has a fixation with wearing lab coats, even if he’s not at work. He says they “have many pockets so they’re useful” and that they’re “comfy” as he puts it.” He explained with a sigh. Ava giggled and Edmund cracked a small smile. Edmund continued looking at the photo fondly and Ava couldn’t help but stare. She’d seen Edmund’s smile tons of times but none like this. He loved his family more than life itself, that was obvious. Ava began to wonder if he’d ever look at her like that, but she shook the thought off before it progressed into something that she did not want to deal with during her next depressive episode. Edmund returned the photo to its original spot before focusing his attention back to Ava.

“You wouldn’t happen to be looking for Illusions of Yesterday, would you?” he asked with a smirk.

“Actually, no. I was curled up in that chair reading Fahrenheit 451 and drinking that tea, thank you very much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to it.” Ava said pointing. She sat back down, wrapped herself in the blanket and continued to read. She heard Edmund chuckle before positioning himself at his desk and opening his laptop. She assumed he was going to continue writing his book, so she focused her attention to the book her hands.

~

After about an hour or 2 of working, Edmund stretched over the back of his chair and glanced over at Ava, who had fallen asleep sometime after finishing the book. He smiled softly as he looked at her. It had been a long time since he’d let someone in his study as he worked, even Amelia didn’t stay in her unless she was waiting on him to finish with a manuscript. He took his suit jacket off the back of his chair and draped it over Ava before going off to finish what he had started with that morning.

~

Ava stretched with a yawn; she hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep. Edmund must’ve finished his work since he was no longer at his desk. As she stood up, the suit jacket fell to the floor. Ava picked it up and smiled. She hugged it close, taking in the smell of fancy cologne and old books. It was comforting; she shook her head and draped the jacket over his chair. She made her way to her room and picked her phone up before falling back onto the bed. Still no notifications from family or anything but as she was about to head downstairs, her phone began ringing.

“Hey Shar” Ava answered.

“Aves! I miss you, when are you coming back to work?”

“I’ll be back on the 26th, Shar. When I get back, I give you full permission to complain to your heart’s content.”

“Good. I’ll start with Mr. Erikson’s constant hemorrhoid complaints and maybe, if I’m being nice, I’ll spare you the details from Mary Ann’s story about her baby’s birth. Spoiler alert, she had pictures.”

“Gross. So other than that, how’ve things been?”

“Good, other than the fact that I’ve had to work with Jessica instead of my bestest friend in the whole wide world.”

“Next week will be over before you know it, Shar. Then we can get back to our work shenanigans.”

“It better fly by. I went by your house last weekend; I didn’t see you, but your car was still there, I got worried you might’ve been kidnapped or something.”

“No, you know nobody wants to kidnap my sad ass. I’m staying with a friend for a bit, better for my mental health than staying home alone with my thoughts, ya know?”

“Friend? You have friends outside of me? I can’t believe you would go off and cheat on our friendship like that! How could you, Ava??” Shari said dramatically. Ava could practically hear her leg kick up through the phone.

“Calm down, drama queen. I’m not replacing you. He helped me when my brain was having a “Fuck Ava” day and he offered for me to stay with him for a bit, so I said yes.” Ava explained.

“He?? As in, male friend?” Shari said, her interest piqued.

“Yes, he. I have male friends, Shar.” Ava said. Technically it wasn’t a lie since she was basically friends with her brother in law, Jonah. Not close friends but still friends.

“None that you’ve ever stayed the night with. Sooo, is he cute? What’s his name? How’d you guys meet? Is he single?” Shari asked.

As if on cue to save her from Shari’s questions, Edmund knocked on the open door.

“Edmund! Hey, bud. I gotta go Shar, talk to you later, bye!” Ava said before hanging up.

“Is…everything alright?” Edmund asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Yeah, my friend just wanted to talk for a bit, that’s all. What’s up?” she said tossing her phone on the bed as she stood up. She noticed a small box in his hand with a little silver bow on top.

“What’s that?” she asked pointing to it. Edmund held it out.

“It’s a gift. For you.” He said with a small smile.

“What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion. Just giving a gift to a dear friend. That’s all.”

“Dear friend?”

“Yes, dear friend. Now, go on. Open the box.” he said gesturing to the box. Ava smiled and took the lid off.

Inside the box, was Illusions of Yesterday. As Ava looked up and Edmund, he motioned for her to open it. She took the book out of the box and opened it. On the inside of the cover, was a little message.

A Gift from a friend,

Now you can stop stealing it

~Estelle

Below the name was a small smiley face. Oddly enough, the handwriting seemed very familiar but, she ignored it for now and looked up at Edmund with a smile.

“You’re giving me the book?”

“Yes. Consider this your victory for our little game.” Edmund said giving her a small smile with a wink.

“Does this mean our little game’s over?” Ava asked.

“I’m sure something else in my possession will catch your eye and I’ll have to hide it around the house for you to find it.” He said with a smirk. Ava hugged him and like their hug before, he tensed up but soon relaxed into the hug.

“Thanks Ed. I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, Ava.”

The two stood their embracing for a moment before a tiny gasp came from the doorway followed by the fast pitter patter of Mary Janes. Edmund cleared his throat and the two pulled apart awkwardly and apologized to each other several times.

“Uh, so thanks again for the book, Ed. You really didn’t have to give it to me. Not to mention, getting Estelle’s signature on the inside of the cover. Have you been telling her about me?” Ava asked, sitting down.

“Ms. Luzzatto and I may have had a few conversations about you and our little game. You have certainly given her more confidence it that book, hence the reason why she is making you the new owner of the book.” He said.

“That’s awesome but she doesn’t even know me. She at least knows you.”

“I assure you; you know Ms. Luzzatto more than you think. Onto other matters, I need to start preparing dinner, would you like to help?” Edmund asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a moment.”

As he left the room, Ava looked down at the book and hugged it close.

He gave her the book.

He didn’t have to.

He could’ve gotten mad at her for taking it so many times.

But he didn’t.

He could’ve kicked her out of the house after the first night.

But he didn’t.

He genuinely didn’t have act so sweet to her.

But he did.

He could’ve just left her at her apartment or left her to walk home when she was supposed to.

But he didn’t.

Ava hugged the book tighter.

He gave her the book.

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