I laid there in bed that morning as I had so many mornings when I didn’t have to open the shoe store. I would lie there, pretending to sleep if only to catch a few more moments of quiet. The screeching voices from outside of my door that I was accustomed to didn’t come, reminding me that I was still away from my children. It had been weeks since I had them and the haunting quiet was troublesome. In a weird way, I relished the experience. Being slow to get out of bed was not something I was often allowed to do.
The smell of bacon and coffee filled my nose as I opened a single eye to look over at a full breakfast tray at my bedside table. I rolled back over, trying to close my eyes once more. The aroma continued to coax me. My hand reached out on the bed, feeling around for the red book that had been resting on top of me. I felt nothing but the softness of the blankets against my hand. Wide open now, my eyes bulged out, scanning the bed and nearby floor for any sign of it. My hands slid against the bedclothes, searching for a bump or hidden pocket trying to conceal it, but again the searching returned no results. As I jolted out of the bed, my bare feet thudded against the hardwood floor, sending a booming sound throughout the house. Perhaps I had put it beneath the mattress in my sleep. I thought, sliding my hands beneath it to feel for it. My head tilted down to the side as I lifted up the bed skirt to look under the bed. Still, nothing. As panic kicked up, I sprinted over to the dresser in the corner of the room, rummaging through each drawer and flinging the clothes behind me. The door to my bedroom creaked open as a concerned Leila came through to find me.
“What on Sedania are you doing?” she asked.
“The book is gone, Leila. I need that book. I think Blane took it even though he said I could have it. Why does he do that to me? He makes me think he loves me, but then he betrays me!”
“Calm down. It’s going to be okay,” she comforted.
“No, it isn’t. Nothing is okay. We are pretty fucking far from okay!” I screamed. “That book was my key. It was my answer. Don’t you get it?!”
“Liza, stop!” she exclaimed. “I saw Stark skulking around your bedroom window this morning. Maybe he took it.”
“What?!” I said. “He’s such a jerk. The nerve of him!”
“Well, I agree,” she shrugged.
“Where’s Blane?” I asked.
“He’s gone to the village this morning. You made him quite angry last night. I haven’t seen him that upset in a long time,” she said.
“Well, it’s not my fault he’s jealous of Stark for no reason,” I replied.
“Well, I don’t like that guy Liza. You should stay away from him,” she said.
“I will as soon as I get the book back,” I responded.
Leila might have tried to stop me if she hadn’t seen the determination in my eye. I found myself taking a brisk walk down the hill to the beach and around the rocky ledge separating the cove. I was going to give Stark a piece of my mind. Where did he come off taking that book from me? He had no right to pry into my business. I walked up to him from behind. I recognized his wavy blonde hair. He appeared to be busy fashioning some kind of make-shift fishing pole.
“Stark!” I yelled, placing my hand on his shoulder and forcing him to turn around and look at me.
“Liza?” he said. His eyes were illuminated with the wonderment of a small child. He dropped the fishing pole to the ground and leaned in toward me. Was he happy to see me?
“Come here I want to show you something,” he said as he grasped my wrist and began to give it a firm tug.
“Wait,” I said, trying to maintain anger. “Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll see,” he replied.
His eyes were full of excitement as he dragged me behind him. I tried to keep up with the rapid pace of his steps as he led me through the foliage. My clumsy feet fumbled in my flip-flops. He must have felt it was simply a brisk walk where I felt as if I were almost running.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked. I twisted my wrist inside the grip of his palm.
“Just come on,” he coaxed.
He led me down a path deep into the foliage. He pushed back the branches in front him. The gentle tug on my wrist had become more aggressive as he pulled me toward our destination. At the end of the path was a dark cave nestled into the rocks of the mountain-side.
“I’m not going in there,” I said.
“Are you afraid?” he teased, giving my hand a tight embrace.
“No, it’s just that I need to talk to you about something,” I started.
“We can talk later,” he said pulling me into the darkness of the cave. I pulled closer to him, knowing that soon I wouldn’t be able to see my next step. As we ventured deeper, it was quite apparent that my concerns were not unfounded, the darkness concealed everything.
“We have to go back,” I started.
“Shhh. I have this under control,” he said, taking a match from his pocket and striking it against the rock of the cave wall. His steady hand held the match up to a torch that was hanging there, making the light a bit brighter.
“Stark, what is this about?” I asked.
“Shhhhhhh,” he said putting his finger up to my mouth to hush me. As he did so, the torch blew itself out. I grabbed on to his arm in the pitch blackness of the cave, hoping I could trust his antics. I was alarmed by the sudden darkness, not all that certain why he had brought me here. I could feel his hand meeting mine in comfort when a flickering of green light appeared from the distance. It was a small dot of color hovering around, like a little green bubble. Then, another small dot illuminated. This time it was blue. Then, another and another. They were all different colors.
“Come on,” he whispered, leading me further into the dark cave and towards the dots of light.
These tiny dots were shining and dancing about in the air like a colorful rainbow. As we grew closer, I could make out that they were not just dots of light, but the lights were actually small creatures. I suppose you could call them fairies. Their tiny, winged bodies drew closer to us until they were hovering. They felt like feathers tickling against my skin as their feet landed on me and flew away once again. A small pink fairy planted herself on my fingertip as I raised her up to eye level to get a closer look. She was pink all over. Her face, her skin, her hair, but very human-like in appearance. Her tiny translucent wings took a rest as she stood there looking at me with a cheerful face. My nose scrunched up, just looking at the cuteness in her as she began to mirror my facial expressions. I then stuck my tongue out, she began to do the same. This banter caused me to let out a slight giggle, but as I did so all of the little fairies turned out their lights, leaving us in the dark. Stark covered my mouth and we stood there for a moment. Once assured I would I stay quiet, he lowered his hand, resting it on my hip instead.
One by one, the little creatures illuminated once again and resumed their dancing around in the air. It seemed their every movement was so enjoyable, I was suddenly filled with the desire to join them. The little, pink fairy came back landed on my finger, wanting more of the interaction we had before. She curtsied once, then began playing peek-a-boo. Her arms wrapped around her belly as she bellowed out in a laughter that could not be heard by human ears. An odd sensation came over me while I was playing with her as if our hearts were beating to the exact same rhythm.
As she flew away from me I could feel myself shrinking. I grew smaller and smaller as I could feel tiny wings growing on my back and flapping about to keep me suspended in the air. Stark and I were still holding hands while he was making a transformation as well. I looked down at my body, which was now all purple, and looking at my hand that was now holding one that was blue. Turning my head to look at him, Stark had made a similar transformation.
I could hear music playing that had not been previously audible to our large human ears. Stark held me close to him with his hands on my hips and my arms flung over his shoulder. We glided around in the air, dancing to the music, like the tiny dancers in a jewelry box. He spun me around, but this time my laughter didn’t disturb them as it had before. Hand-in-hand we flew through the dark cave that was illuminated by our own light. As we found ourselves flying further away from the group of fairies, a light from another side of the cave was visible. This light was different in nature, however. It was large, natural and all-encompassing. It must have been the other side as it resembled that of sunlight.
Our bodies grew larger and heavier again as our feet hit the ground. Together we pressed on to the end of the cave where the light of day was more visible. Dragging me to the edge, which took a sharp and drastic slope to a body of spring water in the forest, he encouraged me to take a leap.
“Jump with me, Liza. It’s deep enough,” he said pulling me over the edge with the strength of his arm.
I didn’t have the time to think of whether or not I wanted to jump. I just did it and now I was falling, falling, falling. My stomach turned flip-flops, not quite knowing what to expect next. Down, down, down I descended and splashed into a beautiful spring, plunging deep beneath. Our bodies went down, causing bubbles to shoot up all around us. I lost grip on him as I swam back up to the surface to catch a breath.
“Stark?” I yelled. “Stark, are you okay?”
He shot up out of the water from behind me, surprising me with a small hug.
“Yeah, I’m okay. That was really something huh?” he asked as he swam over to the side.
He pressed his hands against the mushy dirt while his forearms flexed, prying himself out of the water and on to the shore. His dripping wet clothes clung to his body, accentuating each well-defined muscle. I tried my best not to get too caught up in him, but it proved difficult. I quite unsuccessfully diverted my eyes as he hoisted me up with his extended hand. My clothes too were clinging to my body and I could feel my nipples perking in his direction. Our eyes met one another in a sexual trance. His eyes trailed down to my erect nipples and up again to my eyes. It seemed that he too was having a bit of trouble. I let his hand go, turning away as not to let him see my red, flushed cheeks.
“What was that? What happened?” I asked.
“It’s pretty wild, right? It’s certainly not something Blane would have ever shown you,” he said.
“What’s with you guys always trying to compete with each other?” I asked.
“Who’s trying to compete? If I wanted to steal you away from him, I would,” he said.
“Is that so?” I asked.
“Hell yeah, it is,” he responded. I shook my head.
“What was that? What just happened?” I asked.
“Did you read the book, Liza?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that? I would have if you hadn’t taken it!” I exclaimed.
“Whoa now,” he said throwing his hands in front of his face. ” I didn’t take it.”
“Leila said she saw you skulking around my window this morning,” I responded.
“What? No, Liza. I may be living like a beach bum right now, but I’m no peeping Tom. Besides, if I wanted to see you naked, I could,” he boasted again.
“What’s with you? You’re awful confident,” I scolded as I pulled my wet clothes from my body and covered my breasts with my hands.
“Relax, I’m not going to try anything. What we did back there. It was pretty awesome right?” he asked.
“Yes, I suppose,” I said, flicking my hair.
“Do you want to know how I figured it out?” he asked.
“Sure,” I answered continuing to primp my hair.
“Well, for starters, I’ve read the book. Remember when Sid turned into a horse?” he asked.
“Yea, but that’s just a story. I’m starting to doubt if Issiryth even exists,” I said.
The pool of spring water began to ripple and churn, next to us the very moment the words escaped my lips. His wide, open arms received me, as he clasped his hand over my mouth. The sensation of his embrace was delightful, but the control he asserted rubbed me the wrong way.
“Don’t say her name,” he commanded. I pried my fingers beneath his hand, forcing it away from my mouth and wriggling away from his grip.
“Why?” I asked, turning around.
“Because she doesn’t like it that we’re here. Look,” he said pointing at the water.
It was morphing into a picture, like a movie on a screen. There was an image of a little girl, wearing a long nightgown and kneeling by her bed. She had strawberry blonde hair and a sun-kissed saddle of freckles across her nose.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Shall I die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul, to take,” she said. As she rose to her feet, there was a visible shadow in the corner of her room, drawing closer like a stalking demon.
“Little girl, look out!” I exclaimed, watching a man’s large hand clasp over her mouth. As the man pulled her in close to him, she was unable to scream out for her parents. I fell to my knees, helpless to stop it. My hands slid into the water, trying to get to her, while Stark held me back. The man, suddenly recognizable now, pressed his lips against her ear.
“Shhh, it’s going to be okay. Just promise me you’ll stay forever,” he said holding out a music box in front of her. He flicked it open with his other hand, allowing the tiny ballerina to lull her into a trance.
“Blane stop it! What are you doing? She’s only a little a girl!” I screamed. The water began to churn again, making the images fuzzy until they disappeared. My head hung down in between my outstretched arms weeping for her. Stark came over to my side, rubbing my back.
“He can’t hear you. He doesn’t know you can see him,” he said.
“Why did he do that?” I cried, looking back at him with red, swollen eyes.
“Because he’s not human. He has no empathy. He thinks he can take people as his little monkeys,” he said.
“What can we do? I love him, but I have to get my kids back,” I said.
“Liza, if you think he’s going to get you your kids back, you’re delusional. How can you love that monster?” he asked.
“You don’t understand. He’s kind to me,” I responded.
“Kind? Really? Between locking you in a room, keeping your kids from you, and taking the only book that will give you any answers, where has he been kind?” he asked.
“It’s more complicated than that,” I said.
“Yea well, keep telling yourself that sweetheart,” he said putting his hand on my shoulder. “But you need a dose of reality. Blane needs to be taken down.”
“I don’t want to do that. I love him. I want to be with him,” I said.
“Yea? Why is that?” he asked. I thought for a moment but troubled over the answer.
“Because I do,” I responded.
“Oh really? Let me ask you something. How many times have you said that in your lifetime?” he asked.
Oh crap. I thought. I had said that a lot. As a matter of fact, I had said that each time I met a new man who was “different.” I had just sort of broken up with Gary and felt the heaviness of that in my heart. Then, I went through a portal with a stranger. I had convinced myself that I loved this man who had held me prisoner in his world. Despite the fact that the question he asked me revealed an unpleasant truth, I was unable to accept it.
“I’ve said it a handful of times I suppose, but I’m not really sure why it matters to you,” I responded.
“Listen, little princess. I know guys. Their kindness and romanticism are means to an end and nothing else. When Blane is done with you, he’ll toss you away like yesterdays trash. I’ve done it about a thousand times. ”
“Oh, is that your plan with the mermaid? ” I asked.
“Who Serena?” he laughed. “She doesn’t care. I would have to manipulate someone like you though.”
“What do you mean someone like me?”
“You know, that doe-eyed, vulnerable type. All you want is a man to sweep you off your feet and devote his life to you. It would be snap for me,” he proclaimed.
“Oh really? Well, I really doubt it. Besides, you’re not really my type,” I fibbed.
“Oh is that a fact?” he asked putting his large hands around my waist. Our eyes met in a seductive glance as he pulled me in for a mind-blowing kiss. I pulled him toward me, then pushed him away, slapping him smooth across the face.
“Yes, that’s a fact. Now, take me back to the beach. I don’t think I want your help,” I said, still captured by his green eyes. He was silent looking at me while our bodies were still pressed against one another.
“Oh Liza, don’t lie to yourself. You enjoyed it. I can feel it,” he announced.
“No, I didn’t,” I shook my head and turned to walk away from him.
“Wait,” he said grabbing my arm. “You better follow me, or you won’t find your way out again.”
“Fine,” I said rolling my eyes at him as he led me away down a different path. The path winded around and down through the foliage of the forest.
“You know, I’m only trying to help,” he said looking at me as we walked.
“I know that, but you disrespected me when you kissed me. If you want to help then help. You don’t have to prove your manhood,” I said.
“Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry,” he said throwing his hands up. We walked in silence for a while, but it felt awkward. The silence only gave me time to think about my predicament. It was growing more complicated by the second.
“What’s your family like?” I asked.
“My family? Well, I have a mom and dad of course, but I have no family of my own. My life is dedicated to my career and I prefer things that way. ”
“Why?” I asked. “Don’t you want to settle down?”
“No,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because true love doesn’t exist and if it did, I would manage to fuck it up,” he said.
“So, who do you have sex with then?” I asked.
“You’re full of questions aren’t you?” he asked.
“I’m just curious. If you don’t date or anything, then who do you have sex with? Are you a John?” I asked.
“No,” he laughed. “I don’t have to pay for it. I have friends. ”
“Friends?” I asked.
“Yes, with benefits,” he said raising his eyebrows.
“Well, good for you,” I said. “I think I know what love is and I don’t believe you when you say you would just fuck it up.”
“Thank you for your vote of confidence,” he responded, moving forward on the path. His strides were longer than mine, pushing him further ahead of me. Each muscle in his legs and butt contracted as he walked, beckoning my eyes to admiration. His slight indifference gave my stomach quite the turn. Why wouldn’t he want to walk alongside me?
“Well, it’s your life I guess,” I shrugged. “I’d just hate to find myself in such a hopeless situation.”
The beach of the cove was now visible to us as his hand pushed back the brush. He continued on, leading me to the sand, without even looking back to see if I had caught up. His rear-end parked itself on the sandy beach as he gazed out onto the horizon. I found myself out of breath, mirroring his apathy as I retired to the warm, sandy spot next to him. The crystal, clear water shimmered as we watched the coral and seaweed dance just below its surface. His sweaty biceps glinted in the afternoon sun as his hands reached back to prop himself up. My hand slithered away from its place on my lap to grab his arm for a momentary squeeze before returning it to its place.
“Thanks for showing me the fairies in the cave. That was really cool,” I said.
“Sure, no problem,” he responded.
I’m not sure if it was the chill of his words or the biting arrogance of his body language, but I yearned to be closer, knowing that he was unattainable. There was something very alluring about his emotional distance that I couldn’t quite place. It was the very thing that had gotten me in trouble in the past. So, instead of letting my guard down as I always had, I held my emotions in, knowing that there were more troubling things at hand.