I stayed inside his arms while he held me. The rhythm of his heartbeat was the only sound these ears of mine would indulge in. The feel of him was the only feeling I wanted to have. I didn’t know how long we had been lying there and I didn’t really even care. It’s a funny thing about time because it’s relative and often a man-made imposition. It’s as if time stood still in this place. The breezes in the trees made the palm leaves dance around as we swayed back and forth in the hammock. My mother was still sprawled out on the beach, perfectly content in her predicament. My mind was going in a million different directions.
“Blane,” I started.
“Shhhhhh. Liza, don’t speak,” he interjected, placing his finger over my lips. “I’ll take you to my house as soon as the sun sets. Let’s just enjoy a peaceful sleep for now.”
With that, I curled up on his chest and, closed my eyes, drifting away into a deep sleep. Visions of beautiful, mystical creatures filled my head as I rested. I could hear the waves of the ocean crashing on the beach and the songs of the colorful birds overhead. Being this comfortable felt like a sin. The feeling of guilt began to fester inside of me like a volcano waiting to erupt. Blane wrapped his arm around me as he slept. I could feel his heavy breath on my cheek. I supposed I would let him sleep a bit longer. Remembering I still had my cell phone with me, I pulled it out of my pocket.
My insides turned with a surge of disappointment, seeing there was still no text from Gary. I so much wanted him to grovel. I could see there was still an article up that I had been reading. Stockholm Syndrome. Are you in love with your abuser? It read. I sighed out loud as I crinkled my eyebrows. I thought about the question. It evoked a strange curiosity inside of me. I didn’t even remember pulling up such an article. Surely this didn’t describe me. I felt defensive. How dare you! I’m not an idiot. I thought. I shoved the phone back down into my pocket. Resting my head on Blane’s chest, I looked up at his angular face while he slept.
From the distance, my attention was being drawn elsewhere by the sound of drums, trumpets, and beautiful clarinets. The song was like a dream to my ear that carried me away into a hypnosis. I couldn’t ignore it. The urge to draw closer to it welled up inside of me. I shook Blane’s chest, trying to arouse him from his sleep. I could see my mother walking toward us. Had she heard the music too? She was waving her arms trying to get our attention, but she already had mine. It was as if she was looking through me, much like the old lady we had encountered in the red brick house. Blane finally started to awake after I had shaken him a few times.
“Liza? Do you hear that sound?” she asked. “It’s beautiful, let’s go see what it is.”
“Alright ladies,” Blane said, rubbing his eyes. “I’ll take you to the music, it’s just my parade. The people here like to celebrate once a month or so.”
Rolling out of the hammock Blane extended his hand in order to assist me in getting out of it. I jumped out with the thrills of anticipation. Again, he extended out his elbows to escort us down a winding stone path through a ribbon of palm trees. The people all had smiles on their faces as they walked up and down the streets. Every pair of eyes admired us as we walked by. As the music drew closer, I grew more and more excited. The crowd parted as mom and I dragged Blane behind us to get a better look.
The sound of the band playing was as blissful as the afternoon on the beach. The baton twirlers wore purple and gold sequin costumes that barely covered their bums. Their steps were so well delivered and perfectly synchronized. They tossed their batons in the air with a magnificent grace. As the batons tumbled down like perfect silver birds gliding down from flight, they caught them again and twirled them around their slender bodies. Behind them were belly dancers wearing long red skirts, with a slit all the way up to their thighs. Spangles adorned their costumes as their bellies rippled like ocean waves. Their long, black, curly locks of hair fell down around their faces as they moved around in a perfect dance. Still, more lovely characters came in with elaborate costumes marching through the road, giving their kind regards to Blane. The crowds cheered at the lovely sight of it all. Even mom and I were carried away.
A beautiful float, decorated in light blue and green to resemble the ocean, carried a woman who was waving at all the people. She stood at the top of the float in a regal position with children dressed as sea creatures all around her. She was dressed in a blue dress that flowed down to her feet. Her long, blonde hair fell in perfect alignment just beyond her shoulders. Her face was as a smooth as a china doll and she had large, icy blue eyes. Her skin shimmered in the sunlight with a beautiful silver sparkle. She wore a sequin headpiece that complimented the shimmers of her skin. The sight of her seemed to hush the crowd as such a beauty would leave anyone speechless. Her eyes cut down to look at Blane as the corners of her lips turned down. Her beautiful smile had disappeared. I looked over at Blane. His eyes were looking downward at the ground as if he were avoiding a confrontation. She shot her head up again to address the crowd, giving them all a dazzling white grin.
That was odd. I thought to myself. Everyone here seemed to adore him, but it was as if she knew something the rest of us didn’t. As the float passed us by a very odd rush of feelings came over me when I looked at the starfish and the seahorse. Their faces resembled those of my children, Jameson and Noah.
Suddenly, I knew who this woman must be. She must the one who took my children and she was literally parading them in front of me. I became livid and relieved all at the same time as the adrenaline swept through my body. I broke away from Blane and sprinted toward the float. I could hear his rapid footsteps on the concrete behind me.
“Liza, stop!” he yelled.
My legs moved faster beneath me. As I approached the float with no remorse, my hands grabbed a hold of the back of the float and hoisted myself up. The children standing around the woman all looked at me as if I were a murderer. Their scared little faces looked up at me as they cowered away. I grabbed a hold of the seahorse and starfish.
“Noah! Jameson!” I screamed, removing the headpieces from their costumes.
I pulled the two boys close to me by their shoulders. I could feel the jerk of the float as it stopped in its tracks. Every eye at the parade was observing the spectacle I was making. The two faces staring back at me look terrified and shaken. It had only taken a split second to realize what a grave error I had made. These were not my boys. The horrified face of the beautiful woman on the top of the float shone down on me with the burn of judgment. I removed my hands from their shoulders and hung my head in shame. A concerned Blane had made his way over to me. He extended out his hand. His dark eyes looked up at me. My eyes welled-up with tears. I was humiliated.
“Liza, come down now. You need some rest,” he said. I looked down at the scared children, handing them back their headpieces.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were... someone else,” I choked.
Blane still had his hand extended. I placed mine inside of his and stepped down from the float. He put his arm around me as he led me away from the crowd. My eyes were glued to the ground and my hair hung down around my face. Blane kissed my forehead in a way that said everything was going to be alright as we shuffled over to my mother who as waiting for us on the side of the street.
“You know this parade was nice, but I’d like to rest my feet a while,” she said.
“You got it,” said Blane.
Blane extended out his arms to us as he always had, escorting us away from the people. His index finger and pinky jammed into the corners of his lips as he let out a loud, ear-piercing whistle. His eyes scanned the street once to the left, then to the right, as if he expected someone or something to obey him. Within moments, a sleek white car drove itself up and stopped right in front of us. Its curious appearance filled me with questions as there was no sign of a steering wheel or driver’s seat. It was simply a large glass bubble with leather interior seating. As the doors opened themselves to us, I hesitated to get in.
“After you ladies,” he said with a confident gesture. As we boarded the car, Blane in tow, the doors shut themselves behind us.
I noticed Blane pulling a small silver disc from his pocket and pressing some buttons on it. As he did so, a small window in the car opened itself up as the disc flew out. Perplexed, I cocked my head, only observing him as he pressed more buttons on the dash. To my astonishment, it brought up a map of the island on a screen. Using his finger, he charted our journey to another destination on the other side that was marked with a large red dot.
“Blane look out!” I warned, suddenly aware of a large silver disc flying back through the window and toward his head. Without looking up at all, his hand reached up and caught it just shy of knocking him out. I let out a sigh of relief.
Prying it open, he pulled out three drinks, placing them in the cup holders beside us. The silver disc shrank back down again to its original size. I felt the squeeze of his left hand to thank me for warning him as he shoved the disc back down in his pocket with his right. The chain of events happened without any reluctance causing me to observe his grandeur. With that, the car took off in a flash as we drove away from the small town. The people smiled and waved at us as we descended on our journey away from them. I could see long stretches of beach and water passing by us as we drove and drove. The water was crystal clear to the eye as we looked down, able to view the beautiful sea life and rocks. Soon, the winding roads led us around the mountainous scenery of the island.
Mom and I were so dazzled by what we were observing that we scarcely thought of our unpleasant circumstances. The ride in itself was a beautiful show. We came to a private driveway with a gate. The question of why he needed a gate in this place was a bit puzzling, but I dismissed the question almost as soon as it had arrived. He pressed another button on the car and the gate opened up to a long driveway that winded through the forest and foliage that were concealing it. Once through the driveway, a beautiful house overlooking the ocean stood in all its glory with large white columns and red brick. It was apparent that there were other houses around and behind it along with a sparkling swimming pool. I felt the jerk of the car as it stopped in front and its doors opened themselves up for us. The splendor of it delighted our senses as Mom and I hooked arms for our journey inside. The large double doors at the front of the house opened to a great room with beautiful hardwood floors. The room was decorated with expensive furnishings and a stone fireplace. There were two large wooden columns that were sculpted to look like coral and sea life. My brain was working hard to take in all that my eyes were seeing. It was nothing short of beautiful and magnificent.
“Mrs. Ward, let me show you to your cottage,” Blane said taking my mom by the arm.
“Her what?” I asked. “Mom ought to stay with me, Blane. She really doesn’t need her own little house.”
“I think that’s for Mrs. Ward to decide, don’t you darling?” he asked me, then turned to mom. “Mrs. Ward, what would like to do?”
“Oh, a cottage sounds lovely,” she responded.
I rolled my eyes as he escorted my mother away from me and out the back door. The big, plush couch in the living room surrounded me like a bowl of chilled gelatin as I sat. I held my lips shut trying to make use of the silence. The moment I laid my head back and closed my eyes I heard footsteps from down the hallway beckoning me to peek my head up. The voice of a woman singing to herself echoed as she drew nearer.
A small woman, perhaps an islander, with round cheeks and hips, entered in through the living room and into the kitchen. Her eyes were only fixated on what was directly in front of her. She didn’t look at me at all. She wore a long blue cotton dress with tropical flowers printed all over it. Her bright cherry, red lips shone with a brilliant smile. The tune of the song was drifting through the air as she rummaged through the refrigerator, not noticing me at all.
“Hello?” I said. The sound of her head banging against the shelf of the refrigerator made it clear that I had startled her.
“Ow,” she exclaimed, turning around to face me. “Well, who might you be?”
“I’m Liza,” I answered.
“Oh!” She said in a high-pitched, happy tone. “Liza, I’ve heard so much about you! It’s nice to finally see your beautiful face.”
“What?” I asked. ” You’ve heard so much about me? Blane and I have only just met one another. I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Oh, how rude I am. I’m Leila. I keep the house and grounds for Blane,” she explained. “I don’t involve myself much in his personal life, but I do know he’s quite fond of you.”
“I see. Well, I find all of that a bit odd, but it’s nice to know he’s said nice things about me. How long have you worked for Blane?” I asked.
“Well, let me think,” she said. “I think we are going on year 234 now.....”
“What?” I gasped. “You don’t look a day over 25! How old are you? How old is Blane?”
“Oh, we don’t discuss our ages here,” she responded. “Blane doesn’t care for it, but I will tell you that time doesn’t really go by in the same way that you’re probably used to. Aging can happen here, of course, but it really only happens if you believe it will. Most here stay looking young because this island fills us with so much joy.”
Shaking my head, I sat back down on the couch trying to contemplate the whole situation. Blane could be seen through the window marching his way back up to me as the sound of Leila singing buzzed in my ears.
“I see you and Leila have met one another,” he said. “Leila’s my housekeeper, but she’s really like family. She’ll be preparing our dinner for tonight.”
“Blane, Leila told me you told her all about me,” I glared at him with a gleam of suspicion.
“Yes,” he responded. “And I have. What of that Liza?”
“You haven’t known me long enough to have been able to travel back here and tell Leila all about me. It’s a bit on the creepy side. Don’t you think?”
“Creepy is all about your perception dear Liza,” he said. He touched the tip of my nose. “Would you like me to show you to your room? I’ve laid out some dress choices for our dinner tonight. Your mom won’t be joining us, as she’s made it very clear she wants to remain in her cottage to enjoy her bubble bath, furnishings, and drinks.”
“You know since I’ve arrived here, I’ve felt like I’m on some kind of weird vacation where all the people are pleasantly oblivious and live well into their two hundreds, but don’t age at all. My children are on another island with a stranger and I’m here with you; enjoying this idiotic vacation!” I exclaimed. “There’s something weird going on here!”
“Liza, please,” Blane started as I stood up.
“Please what Blane? Go along with this charade? Just take me to my room. I don’t want to change and have dinner with you. I just want my kids back. That’s all!”
“Okay Liza, whatever you want,” Blane responded. “I don’t want to hurt you. I’ve never wanted anything more than to make you as happy as possible since the day I knew you existed. I knew I would fall for you and I just wanted to give you everything.”
“What a crock of shit!” I yelled. “I don’t believe a word that comes out of that beautiful mouth of yours. You know how to get to my kids and you think you’re going to distract me with all this shit. Well, you’re not. I’m going to bed and you better damn well have a plan to get them back in the morning!”
“Liza, I do have a plan,” he said putting his hand on my face. His big dark eyes looked down into mine, piercing into my soul like a spear and taking over my rational thought.
Deep emotions began to overtake me as I gazed back at him. Thump, thump, thump. Dare I allow him to take me again? Assuming I was thirsty for him, how would I be able to control it? He pulled my body close to his and began to kiss me. I could feel the passion welling up inside as it took over my rational thought. Overcome with sensuality, I wrapped my arms around the back of his neck, fully accepting his assertion. This contradiction of feelings I had stirring inside of me for this man made the passion all that more intense. I jumped up into his arms, wrapping my legs around him. Picking me up, he walked me back into a bedroom down the hall.
My back pressed up against the door as it flung open by the push of his rush to get me to the bed. I found myself surrounded by a sea of feather pillows and blankets as his hands reached under my garments to free my breasts. I kissed him with the fondling and undressing, but I was suddenly struck with a puzzle that needed to be solved; I had to find my children. Just as quickly as the passion had been brought on, my desire for answers brought it all to an abrupt halt. As his bulging member brushed up against my leg my arms sprang out from beneath him, pushing him away.
“What’s the matter princess?” he asked with a glaring question in his eye.
“No, Blane. I don’t want to make love to you now,” I said looking back at him. “Is this my room?”
“Yes, Liza,” he responded. “If you like this room, it’s yours. I’m sorry. By the way you were behaving, it seems like you wanted to.”
“I don’t Blane,” I responded and started to cry. The comfort of his hand stroking my hair didn’t seem to help at all.
“Okay Liza,” he said. “I told you if you never wanted to make love to me again that you didn’t have to and I meant it. If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you. We can make a plan to get the boys tomorrow okay?”
“Okay,” I said in a whisper.
I turned away from him as he left the room and buried my head in the pillow. My tears sank through the material like the anchor of a mighty ship. As the room darkened with the setting sun, my emotions followed suit. The feeling of hopelessness overcame me, fully realizing that Blane was only trying to distract me. Who wouldn’t want the King of an island to shower her with romance, adoration, gifts, and a comfortable life? Not me. Not now. All of these years I had sought after these things, but it came in the wrong timing and under the wrong circumstances. I was despairing over this, but I had to maintain my strength because in my strength was power and in my power was salvation. I wouldn’t let him have me again. I thought. No more lovemaking. No more romance. At least not until his promises showed fruition. It would be difficult to resist the sensuality he brought up in me, but I knew I must. I knew my only leverage over Blane was my failure to fall under his enchantment. I’m not quite certain how long I was on the bed formulating a plan in my mind, but it must have been quite a while. The dusk had turned into pitch black as the night sky shone with a giant bright moon and thousands of shimmering stars that twinkled down at me with kind regards.
It was the most stunningly, beautiful sight to my swollen, crying eyes. In my weakened state I drifted past the view of the window and slumped down into the vanity seat in the corner of my dark room. Observing my appearance in the mirror in front of me proved disappointing when I noticed how red and swollen I had become.
I touched the mirror with the tip of my finger over the reflection of my eyes and face, trying to imagine what I might look like if I were feeling stronger at that moment. The sinking feeling beneath my finger on the glass was startling as it was quite clear that the mirror may not have been made of glass at all, but perhaps something even more magical. The peculiar sensation of soft mush, revealed a mystical quality in it. My reflection began to morph into the version of the “me” that I had desired to see. It was a soft, flawless woman with smoothed out porcelain skin and dark shiny hair.
I waved to the mirror and watched the hand in the mirror move in perfect synchronicity with mine. I began to make faces at myself. First, I’d smile. Then, I’d frown. I took both hands to each side of the mirror staring deep into my own eyes with the gaze of a serious nature. I wished that here in my rational mind, I could find the answer to the puzzle; this puzzle that kept me separate from my precious children.
“Tell me,” I said to myself. “Tell me what I should I do! You know what to do Liza, just find the answer in your heart.”
I stared a while longer at my flawless appearance. These big brown eyes, so sad and desperate, were staring back at me. Suddenly I found my reflection looking off to the side. The thing is that I myself hadn’t. The reflection in the mirror was animated on its accord.
“Pretend,” she said. A loud knocking at the door caused me to nearly jump out of my skin as the reflection dissipated into the less preferable version of myself again.
I got up and walked over to my door to open it. It was Leila holding a large tray with a medium rare sirloin steak cooked to perfection, buttery mashed potatoes, and a roll. The tray had a glass of wine and water sitting side-by-side next to a perfect single red rose in a vase.
“How very nice Leila. You didn’t have to do that for me,” I said.
“Oh, I know,” she responded. “It’s my pleasure to serve you.”
She sat the tray down on my bedside and began to fluff up my pillows. I took my hand over hers to stop her.
“Leila,” I started. “Please don’t do that. Won’t you sit down with me for a little bit?”
“Sit down?” she looked puzzled. “With you? I don’t do things like that Liza.”
“Please Leila,” I responded. “Please sit, I have no friends here. I just want to talk to you.”
She hesitated as she seated herself on the bed next to me. A look of discomfort came over her face, which was an emotion I assumed was foreign to her after all these years. She rung her hands together and began to tap her feet on the ground.
“So, I was washing the dishes today and some the soap squirted into my eye,” she said.
“Oh no, that sounds terrible,” I said. “But I want to know about you, Leila. How did you get here? What is this place? Who is the real Blane?”
“Blane is King,” she said in a very serious tone. Her smile had disappeared from her face. “I don’t know how or when I got here, but I haven’t really thought about it either.”
“Don’t you think it odd that you don’t know how you got here?” I asked.
“No,” she shrugged. ” I guess not, but your questions are making me uncomfortable. I’m not supposed to be here with you like this!”
She stood up to leave, but I grabbed her arm out of impulsivity. She removed my hand with a look of a great deal of intensity in her eye.
“You know Liza,” she said. “I don’t like the way you’re behaving. You better stop! Good night now.”
The door slammed with a loud bang behind her as she got away from me. Her message was loud and clear. I supposed at that point in time, I felt like the only person I had was myself. Disappointed in her rejection, my hands flew up in the air as I collapsed back down in the chair. My reflection had said something quite interesting, however. I wonder what it meant when it said “pretend.” My only way to defeat Blane was to pretend. Pretend what?