The Man in The Mansion

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Estelle

The next day, Ava sat in the hammock with Ben in her lap while she helped him read one of the children’s books that Ava swiped from Edmund’s study.

“Hey, Ava?” Ben asked

“Yeah?”

“Do you really have to go home soon?”

“Yeah buddy, I do.”

“Does that mean that you won’t be able to spend time with us anymore?” Ben asked looking down.

“No, of course not. I’m still gonna spend time with you guys; I just won’t be here all the time, but I’ll try to come over whenever I can, I pinkie swore, remember?” Ava reassured him with a smile.

“Yeah, I remember. I’m gonna go play with Katie, okay? Can we read again later?”

“Of course, we can.” Ava told him before he ran off to find his sister. She sighed and leaned against the hammock. Every day with these kids makes Ava want to leave less and less. She wanted to spend more time with them. More time with Edmund. She grew more and more curious about him as the days went on. She had a feeling that he was hiding something, and she was determined to find out what it was before she had to go back. She got up and headed towards her room.

She plopped herself on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while. Was she really ready to go back to her apartment? Her place wasn’t too far away so it wouldn’t be too much of a bother to come over to see them but was she really ready to wake up to an empty house on a Saturday morning, fix herself a bowl of cereal and pass out on the couch for the rest of the weekend? She’d only had one depressive episode since she came here and that in itself was a goddamn miracle. Usually she had one every other day, taking breaks in between to actually brush her hair and eat something so if she got a surprise visit, people wouldn’t know she was falling apart. She would try to take better care of herself so when she did see Ed and the kids, they wouldn’t worry, but she knew that her attempts in self-care would end up failing. Procrastinating depression never works not matter how hard Ava tries.

She wondered if Edmund really meant it when he said he’d come over to take care of her. If so, she wasn’t sure she would want him to leave. If he didn’t have the kids, would he offer to stay the night? She didn’t have an extra room and he was too tall to sleep on her small couch. She wouldn’t mind sharing the bed with him and if she couldn’t sleep, would he hold her? Ava shook the thought out of her head, ignoring every feeling she had and reached for Illusions of Yesterday.

As she picked the book up, she noticed something fall out. She saw that it was one of the notes that Edmund had previously left her; she was using it as a bookmark. It didn’t bother her that it fell out. She remembered that she had left off at the part where Caspian was about to open the chest in his grandfather’s study. She picked the note up and opened the book, smiling at the back of the cover. She went to return the bookmark to its original page, but she hesitated once she saw the handwriting on the note. She held the note next to the note in the book and stared for a moment. The handwriting was the exact same and Ava wondered for a moment if Edmund actually wrote the note before reality hit her stupid ass upside the head.

Edmund had told her that he was a children’s author and he kept some of his books in his study. When she looked, she only saw Estelle’s books. There was no other bookshelf. He wasn’t hiding his books. Ava could’ve hit herself for her own stupidity.

Edmund was Estelle. Estelle Luzatto wasn’t a woman who shared the same publisher with Edmund. Estelle was merely Ed’s pen name and Ava took this long to figure that out. Ava must’ve looked like a complete moron. She stood up and walked towards Edmund’s study, where he was working. She opened the door and sat in the chair beside his desk without saying a word to a very confused Edmund.

“Ar-Are you okay, Ava?” Edmund asked confused.

“I. Am. An idiot.” Ava said.

“No, you’re not, you seem like a very intelligent woman.”

“Ed, you’re sweet. But I just realized something that I probably should’ve realized a while ago.”

“And that is?”

“You’re Estelle.”

“No. I’m Edmund.” Edmund said. Ava opened her mouth to say something but quickly shut it and glared at Edmund, who was clearly trying not to laugh.

“You know what I mean, dickhead.” She said softly laughed and shoving his leg.

“Yes, Ava. Estelle is my pen name. Forgive me for not telling you from the start, I wanted to see how long it would take you realize that Estelle isn’t an actual person, but my pen name.”

“Well, it took me longer than it should’ve, but I figured it out.” Ava said laughing at her own stupidity. She paused and thought for a moment longer.

“Wait a damn minute. What’s Danny’s last name?”

“Lucilius.”

“You’re quite the smart ass today, aren’t you?” Ava asked. Edmund gave a mischievous smirk.

“His biological last name is Taylor and before you ask, yes, Danny is my illustrator.”

“Wow, he’s quite the creative one, isn’t he?”

“Indeed. Luckily, Taylor is no longer his last name, so it isn’t as obvious anymore.”

“That’s another thing I wanted to ask. How exactly did you adopt the kids without their parents knowing?”

“I went to court with Ben’s father and Katie’s parents, but I had to go through many lawyers to get custody of Jo and Danny. I couldn’t get in contact with Jo’s parents and Danny’s situation was rather unique, so it took many signatures and several trials before I was granted custody of the two. It was quite a stressful journey but one I would gladly take again.” Edmund said smiling softly.

“Not many people would go to those lengths for their children.”

“I am quite different than most people. My children mean the world to me, I would do anything for them.”

“God, Ed. Do you have a single flaw?”

“Well, there is my apathetic nature.” Edmund said. “There are other things, but you’ll have to decipher them on your own.”

“Well it’s a good thing I like mysteries.”

“Mysteries such as Illusions of Yesterday?” Edmund said with a smirk.

“Yes. Though my favorite mystery happens to be a very mystery man that just so happened to show up when I needed him most.”

“When you needed him most?”

“Uh, I’ll admit. When you found me, I wasn’t doing so well in the mental health category.” Ava told him. “Self-care was not in my dictionary. I only did enough to prevent my body from self-destructing when I was at work.”

She chuckled with that last part. Edmund did not.

“I haven’t really cared about myself all that much. Hell, I still don’t but what you did last week made me feel a bit better about myself. Shar and my family have been trying but since they have absolutely no experience with someone at my level of fucked up, they don’t have luck. I love them and I appreciate their attempts nonetheless, but how you handled things that day…. it’s almost like you read my mind.” Ava said with a soft laugh.

“Maybe I did, you never know.” Edmund said with a smirk.

Ava softly laughed and leaned against the chair.

“Hey Ed. When I passed out, why did you bring me here instead of the hospital?”

“I didn’t exactly know what to do in that moment, so I brought you to the first place that came to mind.”

“Your house? You know this situation could have went horribly wrong if things were any different”

“I am well aware; that’s why I’m glad I was there instead of someone else.”

“I can only imagine how the kids reacted when you came in holding an unconscious woman in your arms.”

“They were…quite alarmed. Jo thought I had killed you at first and offered to “hide the body” which should’ve concerned me but Jo being Jo, it was rather expected.” Edmund explained making Ava laugh.

“I have one more question and then I’ll stop bothering you..”

“You’re not bothering me, Ava. I quite enjoy our conversations.”

“Why did you let me stay? I mean, I’m just a random woman that you helped after passing out on the street. You could’ve just taken me home after our conversation or-hell, you didn’t even have to talk to me; you could’ve just left me to go home and mope there. So, I have to know, why did you let me stay with you?”

“You were in need, Ava. You still are. While it may seem like you are okay and in a good mental state, I know that you aren’t. While solitary is what some may prefer, it’s not for everyone. You and I are examples of that. I thought I would be fine alone, but I soon realized that despite my lack of people skills, I don’t like being alone. I don’t know your preferences, but from what I can tell, you don’t seem the type to enjoy solitude. Remember, if you do choose to leave, my doors are always open for you.” Edmund said with a soft smile.

“I know, Ed, but it’s not like I can move in just because I hate being alone.” Ava said. Edmund said something under his breath that Ava couldn’t quite understand.

“What?”

“Nothing. Do you have any other questions, or do you just wish to talk?”

“Don’t you have to work?”

“Work can wait until later if you wish to spend time together.” Edmund said saving his work before turning back to her.

“I don’t have any other questions, but I wouldn’t mind a game of chess if you were up for it.” Ava said shrugging her shoulders. Edmund smiled and shut his laptop before standing up.

“I’m always up for a game of chess with you.” He said holding his hand out. Ava felt her heart thump harder in her chest, but she ignored it and the two went to the library.

~

As the two played, Ava was more focused than Edmund had ever seen before. He noticed that when she was focused, she squinted her eyes and rubbed her thumb and index finger together. Her eyes gleamed when she noticed an opening to knock one of his pieces out. He also noticed that when one of her pieces got knocked out, her nose crinkled before she went back to her focused position. Edmund couldn’t help but stare at her. She was rather cute. Her eyes lit up once more before she stood up and knocked his king out with her queen.

“Checkmate!!” she exclaimed before doing a small victory dance in place. She had that in common with Katie, which made her even cuter. Edmund leaned forward and rested his head in his hand as he watched her. He couldn’t help but smile; her victory dance was short, but Edmund enjoyed every moment of it. She looked over when Edmund let out a small chuckle.

“What?”

“You’re rather adorable when you celebrate, you know.”

“Shut up, I just won a match for the first time in a while, can’t I celebrate?”

“Of course, you can; you just have to accept the fact that you’re adorable while you do it.”

“I am not adorable. I’m a grown woman, not an adorable little kid.”

“You just happen to be an adorable little woman.”

“I’m not little! I’m 5’5!”

“As a 6’0 man, I can’t help but perceive you as little.”

“Keep it up, Edmund. I will knee you in the nut sack.”

“Alright, alright. You’re not little.”

“Thank you.”

“But you’re still adorable.”

Ava slugged Edmund in the arm before storming off. Edmund let out a chuckle before he started to clean up. Ava stormed back in moments later to help him. Edmund caught himself staring at her for a moment.

Maybe something was developing after all.

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