Should I stay or should I go?
After a tea party full of jokes and sarcastic remarks made by Edmund, everyone went off to do their own thing. As Ava stepped into the room to get ready to leave, her eyes landed on the box that Danny left on the bed. She thought she should probably wait until she was finished getting ready before she opened it, but she decided against it and sat down to open it.
Inside was the blue dress that she’d been admiring at the store. Edmund must’ve seen her looking at it and bought it without her knowing. Everything in her being told her to leave the box and go since she didn’t do anything to deserve this dress or the one she was currently in. Her mom would probably tell her to keep it since it would technically be considered a gift, but it was a gift that was way too expensive and nice to be given to her.
Ava stood up and changed back into her clothes before folding the dress she was wearing and placing it in the box with the other one. She put the lid on the box and walked out of the room. As beautiful as the dresses were, she couldn’t take them; it didn’t feel right.
She knew that she should probably go find Edmund, thank him for the hospitality (if you can consider borderline kidnapping hospitality) and go home, but she wanted to read Illusions of Yesterday one last time before she left and she knew exactly where she wanted to read it. She swiped the book from the library and went out to the garden.
She didn’t get to see much of it when Danny was dragging her to the tea party. She did, however, get a glimpse of a hammock with her name on it. The garden was absolutely beautiful and if Ava didn’t have to go home, she’d be very tempted to take a nap until dinnertime. Instead, she settled with curling up with a good book in a nice hammock in the middle of a gorgeous garden before she had to go home.
She had almost finished the book when she felt a small tug on her shirt. She put the book down to see Ben looking up at her as he still held her shirt.
“Can I sit with you?” Ben asked shyly.
“Yeah, sure.” She said putting the book down after marking her page with a small leaf and helping Ben into the hammock, so he was sitting across from her.
Ben was a shy kid, she could tell. He hadn’t said much since she showed up. It shocked Ava that he wanted to sit with her, considering she was practically a stranger to him. He kept looking up at something, but Ava couldn’t tell what it was. She shivered and pulled her sleeves down. Did it get cold all of a sudden?
“So, what brings you out here, kiddo?”
“My mommy told me to come talk to you.” He said glancing up again. Ava looked over at the same direction that he was. There was nothing there. Maybe he was looking at the house?
“Ben, what’re you looking at, sweetie?” Ava asked.
“Oh, I’m looking at Mommy. She doesn’t let anyone but me and Daddy see her but maybe she’ll let you see her one day. She seems to like you.” he said. That explained the air getting cold. Ava knew better to think that he was talking about an imaginary friend. She had chill bumps in the middle of May and she never knew a kid with an imaginary friend that they called their mother.
“Your mommy is here?” she asked looking around, hoping this wasn’t a repeat of the horror movie. Ben nodded.
“Mhm, she died when I was a baby, but Daddy said since I’m special, I can see her and many other ghosts.” He said nodding and smiling up at where Ava assumed his mother was. His smiled disappeared.
“Oops, I forgot that I’m not supposed to talk about it.” He said dropping his head.
“It’s okay. I’m really good at keeping secrets. I won’t tell a soul.” Ava said quietly before holding her pinky out “Pinky swear”
Ben giggled and locked pinkies with her. Her heart almost melted with his giggle. Kids like Ben made Ava want her own kids more than she already did. Not now of course, she didn’t have the funds or the space for a kid. Ben glanced over at the book.
“Ooh, what’re you reading?” he said picking it up and struggling to read the cover.
“It’s called Illusions of Yesterday. I found it in your daddy’s library.”
“Daddy told us not to read that one. He says it’s private. Did he let you borrow it?” Ben asked as he scooted closer to Ava.
“Not exactly, but what your daddy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” She said with a mischievous wink. She heard a faint chuckle from a woman.
“Mommy thought that was funny too.” Ben said with a giggle. Ava couldn’t help but smile but her smile quickly faded as she remembered that she needed to go home. That was her problem, she gets attached too quickly and way too easily. It’d only been a day and she had already gotten attached to these kids. She felt like it was her mission to protect these kids with everything she had.
“Are you okay, Ms. Ava?” Ben asked tilting his head.
“Oh uh, yeah bud. I should probably put the book back and get going.” Ava said gently taking the book from Ben.
“Oh…. why do you have to leave?” he asked, disappointed.
“I just do, buddy. I don’t live here.”
“Can’t you stay here a little longer? I don’t think Daddy will mind.”
“I’m a stranger, sweetheart.”
“But you’re a nice stranger.”
“That’s sweet of you, honey, but even nice strangers are strangers.”
“Oh, okay” he said sadly. Ava gave him a sad smile. She felt even worse about leaving now but she couldn’t just barge in and mooch off of this strange guy that she knew nothing about.
“But if you stay, you won’t be a stranger anymore! Daddy was a stranger once, but now he’s our daddy!”
Before Ava could answer, she heard Edmund calling for Ben. He came around the corner and gave a sigh of relief.
“There you are, Ben. You gave me quite a scare. Go wash up, it’s almost time for dinner.” he told Ben. Ben nodded and ran inside. Once he was gone, the temperature turned back to normal.
“I’m surprised you’re still here, Ms. Ava. I thought you’d left soon after lunch.” he said.
“I decided to come out here for a bit before leaving.” she said. The book in her hands caught his eye and he sighed.
“It seems every time you get the chance, you find your way back to that book.”
“Well, it’s a good book. Besides, if you didn’t want me to read, quit putting it back in the same spot where I can easily find it.” She said leaning back into the hammock and opening the book again. “Let me at least finish it before you take it from me again.”
“You haven’t finished reading yet?” he asked.
“I have, I just wanted to reread it one more time before I go.” she said as she continued reading.
“You really like that book?” he asked leaning against the tree.
“I wouldn’t have read it 3 times if I didn’t like it.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s so special about that book in particular?”
“It’s well written, interesting and reminds me of the books I read as I kid.”
“What books might those be?”
“Boxcar children and Nancy Drew”
“Yeah. I tried to see if there was a sequel to this one, but I didn’t see anything in your library.”
“That’s because the author didn’t make one. The book you’re holding is the only copy.”
“What do you mean?”
“No one liked it, so they never made more copies.”
“Well the people who don’t like it clearly don’t know what a good book is, because this author sure knows her stuff when it comes to murder-mystery books especially for someone who only writes children’s books.” Ava said not taking her eyes off the book. Edmund smiled slightly.
“Are you a fan of Ms. Luzatto?”
“I am now. I’ve only ever read this book but she’s one hell of an author. So, why do you have the only copy? You know her?”
“You could say that. Ms. Luzzatto hates that book, so I keep it in my personal library where no one will read it.” Edmund said. Ava looked up from the book.
“She hates it?” she asked glancing at the book and back up at Edmund. He nodded.
“It was her worst selling book. She doesn’t want anyone to read the book because it brings back the feeling of disappointment in herself for writing a book no one wants to read.” He explained. He looked as if he felt her pain. Ava felt bad for both of them.
“Well, I think it’s a really good book that deserves more praise than it gets. Consider that my review for it.” She said smiling. “So, how exactly do you know Estelle?”
“I’m an author. Authors tend to know each other, especially if they have the same publisher.”
“An author, huh? Well, what kinds of books do you write?” she asked genuinely interested.
“Does that shock you?”
“Well, you give off more mystery or maybe horror vibes. Usually, children’s authors are softer and less broody” She picked at him as she marked her page in the book and closed it.
“How do you know my novels aren’t for broody children?” he asked with a slight smirk.
“Ah, you must be more of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale type of author, huh?”
“Exactly, I could never write anything with unicorns or pink fluffy bunnies.” he said with fake disgust as he tried not to smile. Ava laughed and he let out a small chuckle.
He stood up straight and brushed the bark off of his suit before turning to Ava with an outstretched hand.
“It’s dinner time. You will be staying for dinner, right?” he asked. Ava hesitated before taking his hand and getting up. She grabbed the book and handed it back to him.
“I’m assuming this won’t be the last time that you’ll be taking this book.” He asked with a slight smirk.
“If you want me to stop reading it so badly, you should learn to hide it better” she teased. He chuckled and headed towards the house.
She followed him inside to the kids all gathered around the table, breathing heavily, and looking innocent. Were the kids…. spying on them? Edmund gave them all looks before sitting down and scooping food onto everyone’s plates. Ava sat down in the chair next to Ben and glanced at all the kids.
The first few minutes of dinner were quiet until Ben broke the silence.
“So, are you and Daddy gonna get married?” he asked making both Ava and Edmund choke on their food. Jo nearly fell back in her chair laughing.
“Ben, your dad and I just met, why do you think we’re gonna married?” Ava asked after she caught her breath.
“Well, you and Daddy were talking and laughing, and Daddy never laughs with anyone.”
“He doesn’t really talk to anyone either.” Katie added.
“That doesn’t automatically mean that we’re gonna get married, honey. You have to date someone in order to marry them.” She said trying to keep her cool. She loved Ben to death, but he had a big mouth at times.
“Well, do you like Daddy?” Ben asked.
“Well, I like him, sure, but still, honey, you have to date someone to marry them.”
“Well then, are you gonna do that?” he asked. Edmund had his head in his hands, leaving Ava alone in the matter. Jo fell out of her chair, still laughing while Danny was shaking with quiet laughter in his seat.
“Your dad and I barely know each other; he was only helping me. That’s all.” She explained hoping he would drop the subject. Katie gasped acknowledging Ava that the conversation was far from over.
“It’s like a fairy tale!! The prince saves the princess when she’s in trouble and then they fall in love!” She shouted with excitement. Jo began to laugh harder and Danny doubled over in his chair with laughter.
“Kids, I assure you it takes a lot more than just one meeting for two people to fall in love. Your dad is a very nice man, but we hardly know each other. Now, please drop the conversation and eat your dinner before your father has a heart attack.” Ava asked motioning to Edmund in his seat. He sat up cleared his throat.
“Children. I would advise you to listen to her before all of you end up cleaning the house in order to earn back your electronic privileges.” he said causing the laughter to stop. Danny helped his sister back into the chair and they continued to eat. The rest of dinner was quiet with occasional mentions of things that they did during the day. After dinner, Ava went upstairs once more to make sure everything was neat. The box was still sitting on the bed, but Ava ignored it and left the house.
She didn’t get very far before she slowed to a stop and looked back at the house. She had the urge to go back, stay with the kids and keep stealing the book from Edmund. A part of her felt like she was meant to be there. She did enjoy the company, but she knew better than to go back to the house. Edmund was a complete stranger and she wasn’t about to dump all of her problems on him just because he stopped her from-
“Ms. Ava? Are you alright?” Edmund’s voice called, interrupting her thoughts. He was standing on the front porch with the box in his hands.
“Uh, yeah. I’m okay, just got lost in thought. That’s all.” She said walking back over to him.
“You left the box on purpose, I presume.”
“Maybe I did, Maybe I didn’t. You don’t have proof.” She said putting on a fake smile. Edmund didn’t show any signs of falling for it.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked. If he asked that question one more time, Ava might have a mental breakdown. Instead, she settled for sighing and sitting down on the stairs. Edmund sat down next to her.
“I’m fine, alright? I just- I guess there’s a part of me that’s afraid to go back home.” She said. She hated herself for doing this. She wasn’t the type to tell her problems to strangers and yet, here she was.
“Why is that? Are you safe there?”
“As safe as a rundown apartment complex can be, but I’m not in danger or anything. I just hate being alone, that’s all.” She said looking down. She felt too pathetic to look him in the eyes right now.
“Ms. Ava, I never said you had to go home. My doors are open for those in need of someone to rely on and I hope you don’t find me rude for saying this but…. you seem like you need someone there for you. Now, I’m not saying you can’t handle yourself; I know you’re a strong woman that is fully capable of taking care of herself, but it seems to me, solitary is not what you need at the moment” he said. She wanted to get up and walk away. She wanted to punch him and then walk away. She wanted to curl into a ball and cry. There were a million and one things that she wanted to do at that very moment, but she settled for staying silent.
“Besides, if you left, who else would cause me trouble by disregarding my request to leave the book alone.” He said nudging her slightly with his elbow. She let out a small chuckle and lifted her head a little bit.
“Not to mention, the kids seem to like you.”
“They’ve only known me for a day.”
“True, but my kids are very talented at finding trustworthy people, and they seem to deem you very trustworthy.”
“So trustworthy, they want us to get married.” She said with a small laugh.
“Yes, I meant to apologize to you for their behavior.” He said clearing his throat.
“Don’t worry about it. It didn’t bother me too much; they’re just kids.”
“Yes well,” he said getting up and brushing his suit off before holding his hand out for her “Are you coming?”
“Where?” she asked taking it and getting up.
“Inside. If you wish to stay, we can get any necessities you may need from your home tomorrow morning. Of course, the choice is up to you.” He said. Ava thought for a moment. Could she really stay with this guy? She hardly knew him, but she felt her trust for him grow slightly. Despite the whole borderline kidnapping, he’s been nothing but kind to her. If someone told her that she was going to end up willingly staying in a stranger’s creepy mansion with no other reason but to have some company, she never would’ve believed them. She sighed, hoping this wasn’t going to be a huge mistake.
“Alright, I’m coming.” She said walking after him. He opened the door for her, and they went inside.
“Well, I’m gonna head to bed. Night.”
“Goodnight, Ms. Ava”
“Hey, one more thing, would you quit with the whole “Ms.” Thing. It makes me sound like an old lady or something. Just call me Ava” she said before heading upstairs.
“Alright. Ava it is.”